I hope that this morning, meetings are taking place nationwide to discuss disaster preparedness. Yesterday’s events were minor, but should be a reminder that disasters can occur anywhere at any time, without warning and we should all be prepared.
While much is said about families and businesses being prepared for disaster, little is ever said about churches creating a plan.
Yet for many people their church family is the only family they have – or at least the closest in physical proximity.
I was very troubled last winter when people were losing their power and were basically trapped in their homes. The most vulnerable in these situations, I would guess, would be the elderly, ill and disabled. But I think that single parents may have challenges as well because they may not have the support that they need to get through the situation.
I have brought this up in the past, even approached pastors, but everyone seemed busy or distracted. I hope that this is a wake-up call, though. Times are not going to get any easier and we need to come together as a church to support each other. There will probably be a time when we only have each other.
So, what can churches do to prepare for disasters? They can take a lesson from families and businesses.
- · Account for Everyone – Cascade lists, or “call-down” lists, are very effective for accounting for large groups. For a large congregation, create several smaller groups or “zones” and appoint a lead for each group. In a disaster, the lead will call the first person on the list. That person will call the next and that person the next. This will continue until the last person on the list is contacted and they will call the lead (top of the list). If someone is unable to reach their appointed contact, they are to report it to their lead and the lead will contact the next person on the list to keep the flow going.
In the event of an evacuation, the “buddy system” can be pretty effective. One family accounts for another family or several people account for each other. Travel notices are also a good idea. Of course, people would be able to opt out if they choose, but for those who depend on their church family, this could be vital.
- · Designate a Meeting Place – Set up a designated meeting place. If the area is being evacuated, it is better for people to travel as a group as opposed to alone. This can be someone’s home, a landmark, even the church building (if it is not compromised). If there is an evacuation or if people have to leave, you need to have a place that everyone knows so they can congregate. There is strength in numbers and if the church unites and moves as a whole, the potential is greater not only for lives to be saved, but also for reaching others and saving not only lives, but souls as well.
- · Know Procedures for Evacuation or Shelter in Place (and if you don’t have any, make some!) -Disasters can occur during church just as easily as they could at work or at home. Churches need an evacuation plan. If you had to evacuate your church during service, what would happen? Would people know what to do? Where to go? Would people be accounted for? Would they evacuate in an orderly fashion or would it be pure chaos?
- o Make certain that everyone knows what they are supposed to do. Give someone the job of evacuating the nursery and Sunday school classes, someone for turning off lights, someone for helping those who may have mobility issues. Make sure that all bases are covered.
- o Ensure that all exits are unobstructed.
- o Give leads bright ball caps or jackets to wear so they can be easily spotted in a crowd (red is excellent – yellow is as well).
- o Have some method of accounting for everyone to make sure that everyone got out. People report to leads and leads report to the main person.
- o Designate an area for congregating. When people evacuate your church, where will they go? A parking lot is usually a good option, depending upon the emergency. If the event compromised the structural integrity of the buildings around you, you certainly don’t want people standing under them. Then again, if the elements are dangerous, you don’t want people standing out in the open.
- · Appoint Leads – People need leadership in chaotic, stressful and frightening situations. Appoint leads and make certain that your congregation knows who they are. These leads will be the ones who gather the people, account for everyone and help keep things orderly.
- · Create Response Teams – In events that may trap people, such as blizzards, hurricanes, mandatory evacuations, and other disasters, some people may be unable to get to shelters or get the assistance that they need. Response teams can do this (as long as it is safe). They can get to people with food and water, medication or take them to shelters. We need to help our own because emergency personnel will be stretched and may not be able to reach everyone in a timely manner.
- · Talk and Create Awareness – Your church needs to have a discussion about this. Create awareness, work together to come up with a plan. Involve everyone! When everyone is prepared, things will go much more smoothly and everyone will be much safer. Print brochures and cards with information and distribute it to everyone in your congregation.
Church is our way of life, our LIFE; it isn’t just a place to hang out on Sunday. We are building something here and we need to band together and prepare for emergencies. There will be a day when we depend upon each other for our very survival. I don’t think that day is too far off either.
I would be happy to help anyone with creating a plan for their church, family or business. I have experience in disaster and emergency preparedness and response. Please feel free to email me TheChristianAspie@gmail.com. I will be glad to help.