Is Your Church Prepared for an Emergency?

Written by Founder Raul Rivera on Jul 21, 2016 in Church Management

Pastor Charlie was just getting to the good part of his Sunday message when the air was pierced with a screeching alarm. In panic and confusion, people started to stand up and ask questions about what to do and if it was a emergency situation.

Then someone shouted, “It's the fire alarm. FIRE!”

Soon, all of the 200 people in the congregation were scrambling. Some were trying to collect their belongings while others were looking to find the nearest way to reach their children. Needless to say, Pastor Charlie never got to deliver the rest of his sermon as he tried to keep everyone calm and find out what was really happening.

Now, imagine a similar situation at your church. It does not have to be an actual emergency, maybe just an accidental pull of the fire alarm.

Does your church have a plan?

What happens to the children in the nursery? Where do the parents need to go to get them? Who is going to step up and direct people? Do your staff and volunteers know what to do?

These may be some tough questions to answer, but it is important for you to be able to answer them.

“That could never happen to my church!”

We often hear of stories similar to Pastor Charlie’s and think, “That could never happen to my church.” But that is just the type of thinking that tends to put churches in bad situations.

The fact of the matter is that small emergencies happen quite regularly. These small emergencies can leave a church vulnerable and with a gaping hole in the confidence of your congregation.

The importance of planning cannot be overlooked.

In some states, not being prepared is the same as being negligent. Additionally, not only do you have to worry about injuries and lawsuits, but also the confidence your congregation has in your church.

I know several parents that will not drop their kids off in children's classes without knowing there is an emergency plan in place.

If asked about an emergency plan, how would your children's ministry volunteers respond to that question? Just a little planning can retain these families and fill them with the needed confidence in your church that their children will be safe.

Next, let’s look at 5 ways your church can prepare for an emergency situation.

5 ways to prepare for an emergency situation

So you might be wondering, where do we start? How can we create an effective emergency plan?

Below, we will look at 5 ways you can begin preparing today.

1. Build an emergency planning team

The first step is to include others from your church. Build an emergency planning team with those familiar with operations, ministry attendance, and the physical space. This can be as simple as three to four key people, or a representative from each ministry depending on the size of your church and congregation.

You will also want to include someone who can capture, record, and distribute the information from the emergency planning team meetings, such as an administrator or secretary.

2. Assess potential hazards

Once you have a team in place, the next step in creating your plan is to do an assessment of potential hazards. First, look at where you are in the country and identify the likelihood of various natural events that can occur (i.e. floods, tornadoes, earthquakes, etc.).

To find this information you can simply go to your state's emergency management agencies web page. They can also provide some great planning information and tools.

3. Identify other potential hazards

Next, identify other nearby potential hazards like train tracks, major highways, overhanging trees, chemical plants, or storage facilities. These hazards are easier to plan for as they are consistent and more predictable.

The next type of hazard to plan for is those that are unpredictable including active shooters, suspicious packages, medical emergencies, and fires. For these events, a plan is equally important and may require additional time and effort to establish. (To learn more about handling active shooters, click here.)

4. Communicate, communicate, communicate

The ability to communicate is key when planning for and efficiently handling an emergency event. There is a need for the planning team to communicate with each other, and then obviously a need to communicate with volunteers and the congregation.

In the event of an emergency, parents will instinctively go to their children. Without being properly informed on what to do in the event of an emergency, you run the possibility of clogging the exits in the children’s ministry area.

Therefore, it is important to have pre-identified locations selected for each age group, or class, in an evacuation or emergency situation. Your will also want to keep this information in each room for volunteers to easily access during an emergency.

Chaos can arise quickly without proper communication and access to information. Having a plan in place and communication procedures established prior to an emergency can save lives.

Another way to maintain open communication and aid in direction and control during an emergency is to have a routine announcement each week just to prepare the congregation in case of an emergency.

This can be a simple statement during announcements, such as, "In the event of an emergency, you can pick up children in the far north corner of the parking lot." The weekly repetition will ensure it is instinctual in an event.

(Take note that it should be decided in the planning process where each group will go and the procedures for reuniting children with parents.)

5. Training staff members and volunteers

Every staff member should be versed in what to do in the case emergencies. In addition, emergency procedures should be thoroughly explained as part of all volunteer training.

This training should include easy to remember information such as where emergency information and equipment is located as well as where to direct evacuees from the areas where they are volunteering. There should also be a posting in every room that has emergency contact information as well as evacuation routes.

In the children’s area this sheet should also show where to take the kids with a small mark only the volunteers would recognize for security purposes (or cover the graphic with a cover page that says in case of emergency).

Volunteers should also know procedures in case of an incident and where to find incident reporting sheets and who to contact. It is also helpful to have CPR training for both church staff and volunteers.

If your church has a nursery for infants or offers childcare for kids with special needs, there are some other important things to consider.

  • Do you have enough volunteers to carry out infants serving in the infant room?
  • If not, do you have cribs that can be wheeled out in the case of an emergency?
  • Do all of the volunteers know how to comfort and lead children with special needs who may become over excited or agitated by the loud alarm? 
  • Are there procedures in place to ensure children are only given to the parent or guardian who dropped them off? (This can be of great concern as you need to ensure children are returned safely to the right people.)

A free resource just for you!

Planning for an unforeseen emergency is not a fun part of ministry, but it is a necessary part. There is not much else more important than the safety of your congregants while they are on church premises.

While this blog is only intended to introduce you to the necessity of having an emergency plan, there is much more that you and your church needs to be considered when developing an emergency plan.

That is why we want to provide you with our Emergency Plan ebook for free. This ebook provides more detailed information that aims to aid your church in creating an emergency plan of its own.

All you have to do is click here to receive this valuable ebook for free.

Please feel free to comment. We always appreciate good dialogue. However, we do moderate each comment to ensure that it is on topic and not derogatory to other participants. We ask that you keep your comments brief and pertinent to the topic so that others may benefit.

Blessings,
Raul Rivera


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