Emergency Management and Your Church

by Budd Dunson

As you watched the coverage of hurricane Sandy, you probably heard the words Emergency Management and FEMA mentioned quite a bit. While Sandy affected millions, emergencies can be as small as one building or one family. If a house fire occurs, it is an emergency and the same principles that are used to manage a Sandy-like catastrophe are used to manage the fire.

There are many opportunities for a church to minister in emergency management. These are generally seen as relief efforts for victims. Different religious groups specialize in different areas of disaster relief. For example, the Southern Baptist Men of Arkansas offer disaster feeding.

Emergency management can be applied to churches to their benefit. If a church burns or is flooded how are church members notified? Where will you meet? What about your records? Who will handle the insurance claims? How would these efforts affect your ministries to your communities?

The first thing you are taught in emergency management is the circle of planning, response, recovery and mitigation. The part of the cycle that catches everyone’s eye is the response phase. You often see pictures of first responders rescuing people in the response phase. However, all the phases are equally important just not as photogenic.

Being ready for an emergency. This is when a church should review its insurance. Is it adequate or have you gone along with the same policy and forgotten to add any improvements you have made? Have you taken into account recently purchased equipment such as, computers, copy machines, projectors, or sound systems? Does your insurance have liability in it? If your church catches fire and it spreads and damages nearby buildings are you covered? What if someone is injured in the fire? If there is a weather emergency and transportation is shut down and communications are lost, who will check on your elderly and shut in members? Will you have services Sunday? How will you communicate with members? Planning can go as deep as you wish; however, in the planning process start with the most obvious scenarios first.

Who is going to check on the shut-ins and who does he report back to? What if others are found that need care? Remember, it is not just the elderly that might need care. Young couples with small children might have needs also. If the electrical grid is down almost everyone is going to need some sort of help. These all need to be checked on. A small note here: cell phones are generally the first item to fail in a storm. Sometimes, text messages will succeed where voice messages will not.

The process of bringing everything back to normal. It is sometimes a long process; particularly if a building is damaged or destroyed. Someone will have to oversee the project and decide where you will meet until the building is completed. Have you considered an alternative meeting place? What will it take to make it useable for church services? Will chairs have to be moved in? What about a sound system, musical instruments, song books? These are items that need to be considered.

The process of eliminating the hazard or making it less severe for the future. For instance, if the church received water damage because a culvert under the drive was too small, consider replacing it with a larger one. If a person on an oxygen concentrator lost power, then plans should be made to have a generator available should the need arise in the future.

Your church probably has many people who are familiar with planning, response, recovery and mitigation because of their current positions in the community. Do you have any volunteer firefighters, ham radio operators, EMTs or Paramedics, police officers, or someone involved with emergency management, or someone from the community who operates a business? These are good choices to start with.

You may even want to have your church serve as a shelter, feeding station, or a warming station. You can choose to feed responders or use your parking lot as a staging area or the church building as a command center.

You might want to partner with another church in caring for those with special needs. You can share resources that you might have a surplus of and another church lacks. It is even possible to share a building for your church services if you stagger your meeting times.

While there are four steps in emergency management—planning, response, recovery, and mitigation—there are four must haves that every church member needs:

1) have a plan. What to do in an emergency.
2) have a bag. Sometimes called a “go kit”. It should contain extra clothes, a flashlight and batteries, personal medications, cash, food. You should be able to quickly place important papers in it.
3) have an out-of-state contact number for family members to check in with.
4) have a destination where will you go if you have to evacuate.

This article just touches the surface of emergency management. Each county or parish has an emergency manager that can help. There are emergency management consultants that will walk you through the process as far as you wish to go.

About the Author: Budd Dunson has been married for 28 years to Sharon, the most understanding wife ever. They have two daughters and twin grandsons. Budd is the deputy Emergency Manager/Fire services coordinator for Howard County, Arkansas. He is the Chief of Mineral Springs Fire and Rescue and has been for eight years. He has had the privilege of following in the footsteps of the former two chiefs. Budd has a degree in religious education and is a fire instructor with over 1000 training hours from the Arkansas Fire Academy. Budd says he “thought I was going into the Ministry but God had different Plans. I am probably the only person alive who actually enjoys studying ICS”. In his spare time, he works full time as the safety and environmental manager for a large towing company and truck repair business.