How churches can
prepare to help people in a disaster
People run to the
closest church in times of trouble.
The wise church prepares for them however they can.
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You will help your community
the same way you did before the emergency, but more people will need
that help afterward.
Your church must
have a disaster plan of some type; It's the difference between service
providers and victims.
that even churches without buildings can make
- Decide what to do if the pastor is away.
- Train staff and members on what to do in an emergency.
- Decide how you will help your community in a disaster ahead of
time. Pray about it. Put someone with the gift of administration in
charge of preparing to do it. Some churches will do a lot and some will
do just a little. But all should do something.
- Network with other churches before trouble hits. This way you can
help each other in
time of need. Nobody cares about denominations at such times.
- Keep a list of local resources, such as shelters, aid
organizations, places to stay, etc. See http://www.InMorganHill.org for
an example. Make a stack of copies before trouble starts, or the first
person will take your only copy and you can't print more without power.
There will always be someone who needs this even when times are good.
- Have a stack of physical maps for out-of-area emergency
- Designate a Disaster Readiness
Coordinator. This is one
accessible person who can act as liaison to your local Office of
Emergency Services (OES), the Red Cross, CERT, and any other
organizations you wish to maintain contact with. Your coordinator
should contact these organizations ahead of time to establish a
- Designate a Security Coordinator
(often the head usher or retired law enforcement officer) who makes
security policy and arrangements whenever the doors are open. Remember
that everyone's back is to the door, anyone could come in and go
anywhere. Also, weirdos do occasionally cause problems; having a
person or team trained to handle it is a must. After a disaster, having
your own security is essential.
- Every coordinator should have an assistant being trained to take
their place. Nobody is available 24/7 or does the job forever.
- Train ushers with fire extingishers, first aid, and CPR. The fire
department will gladly handle extingusher training. Fire protection
companies have a supply of expired extinguishers that can't be
refilled; they will give you some for training if asked nicely (these
extinguishers can't be used for fire protection, only training).
The Red Cross
does first aid and CPR training. Renew training as directed.
- Delegate! Delegate! Delegate! If you don't designate people to do
these jobs, the few leaders you have will have to do them after
everything goes wrong. They will quickly become overwhelmed and burned
out, and little ministry will be done.
- Make a continuity plan to help your church survive, and even
operate, after a disaster. Many good ones are available on the Internet.
- Encourage personal and family disaster readiness. Many
organizations make continuity plans, but fail to encourage family
readiness. If just a third of
the workers don't show up, little will get done.
- Know what your insurance covers. Do an insurance review and
decide what you need. After trouble hits, don't sign any repair
contracts until you know who pays
for what (this type of mistake can end your church).
- Make a church emergency plan, and put the disaster readiness
coordinator in charge of it. There are many organizations that will
help you make one. If you don't know who else to ask, ask your local
Office of Emergency Services or Red Cross. There are many examples on
the Internet. Make a plan, keep it simple,
practice the plan, keep it up to date, and involve the appropriate
- Include other agencies when you practice your plan. For
example, involve the fire department in your fire drill. Involve as
many other agencies and churches as possible.
- Most pastors resist having a fire drill, but the ones who
reluctantly do it are really glad they did, and start doing them
annually. They uncover all sorts of unexpected problems.
- Most organizations
wait for the toilet paper to run out before buying more. Never do this.
Buy in bulk, and it is time to buy again when you are down to a three
- Create a food bank. There is always someone out of work and
food even in the best of times. The food bank is priceless in the worst
of times. Keep a few can openers that don't need electricity.
- Keep a box of respirators. A respirator is a dust mask with two
strings. They are good to have for repairs and great to have when
things go wrong.
- Keep some sturdy gloves for when work needs to be done.
- Designate a person to collect and sort unsolicited donations of
stuff (the Donations Coordinator),
and a predetermined room for the donations. Without a coordinator, you
won't get what
you need until after its over. Some donations of cash or stuff have
strings attached: they can only be used for certain things. The
donations coordinator needs to make sure the donations are not misused
(the consequences include lawsuits, criminal charges, and being smeared
in the press). Some churches chose to refuse unsolicited stuff or
donations with strings attached, the coordinator diplomatically turns
them away and accepts what can be accepted.
- Designate a person to manage spontaneous volunteers, the Volunteer Coordinator. If
you aren't prepared for them, managing these
people will take up most of the pastor's time. The coordinator must
know what needs to be done and where everything is. If you take
spontaneous volunteers, know that your church will be held accountable
for their injuries and misdeeds. Weirdoes show up, and so do good
with valuable skills you need. The volunteer coordinator needs to
screen out certain people (if policy says so, this includes all
- After a disaster, people are desperate to contact friends and
relatives. They also want all the local news they can get. Designate a Communications & Media coordinator
to manage your comm & media resources. The coordinator needs to
make sure any pictures used or released don't show faces of anyone who
hasn't given consent (preferably written). Some people get weird and
sue over this (they lose, but you will spend a lot of money).
Keep a box of
essential supplies for just in case. They are helpful for normal
operations, too. And you can never tell if or why some church members
will be unable to go into their home for a few days.
The most important decision is where to store it. You want it to be
available in times of need, but not so available it is found to be
- A first aid kit
- Some shoelaces
- A bag of socks
- Feminine supplies
- Baby supplies
- A sewing kit
- Safety pins
- Some disposable rain ponchos
- A few blankets
- Plenty of liquid soap
- Some towels and washcloths
- Disposable razors
- A jug of unscented bleach
- Post-its and pencil stubs
- Paper clips
- Stuff to make signs
- Simple tools and supplies to repair a building
Some more expensive
appropriate for some churches)
- Set up a kitchen.
These are also handy for church functions.
- Keep a generator that can run some lights, a computer, the
refrigerator, the copier or printer, and a few other essential
machines. Get a generator a little bigger than what you think you need,
it's worth the money.
- Have a well or a way to purify water when the water
is out. If the water is out, the gas and electricity may be too.
- Partner with the city/county OES (Office of Emergency Services)
Cross to use the building as a shelter.
- Add some plumbing so a shower-head can be screwed in somewhere on
notice. Never underestimate how important an emergency shower is.
- After a disaster, everyone affected should register with FEMA
before the deadline.
If a problem arises later, people who didn't register aren't eligible
for help. Examples include black mold that takes hold of a house in the
summer following the disaster, or damage that isn't discovered
- The city & county Office of Emergency Services (OES) and the
Red Cross would love to partner with your church before disaster
strikes. There are many ways you can help each other.
- Team Rubicon (http://teamrubiconusa.org/)
shows up quickly when disaster strikes, and can send a work crew to
help your church.
Links for church