My husband will frequently say, “Expect the best, but be prepared for the worst.” I think his statement has a lot of merit.
As we well know, no one is exempt from disaster. However, there are things that, as a church, we can do to be prepared for such times. One such way is to develop a disaster plan. Such a plan will also inform your Safe Sanctuary policy, which the 2013 General Assembly said every church should have.
As you contemplate possible disasters in your area (natural [weather-related, earthquake], fire, human error, evil deeds), consider these questions as you develop your disaster plan.
● What resources does the church have?
► Could you provide temporary housing or serve meals?
► Could you receive and distribute supplies?
► Do you have a vehicle that could be used to transport people to/from the disaster area?
● What human resources can your congregation provide?
► Do you have medical professionals who would be willing to volunteer their time?
► Does anyone have a chainsaw or a wood chipper?
► Does someone have access to a portable refrigeration system? heavy equipment?
► Would someone volunteer to stay with children of affected families while the parents
deal with the immediate needs?
● What are likely to be the most immediate needs?
► The most immediate needs will be food, water, and shelter and possibly clothing.
► People will also need to be able to contact friends and family members. Remember those
families in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina who didn’t know where their family
members were or if they were even still alive.
► They may need medications, someone to care for pets, or just a listening ear.
● How will people be able to find out about other congregation members and their
► If you do not have a “phone tree,” now is a good time to create one. Remember, the
electricity is often out when there is a disaster, so using e-mail and social media may not
be the best way of checking on congregation members. Since many people use only cell
phones and cell service may not be available, someone may need to check on any
members who live in affected areas.
► Is contact information for all members and regular attendees current?
► Consider getting a list of emergency contact information for all members and regular
attendees. Should someone be injured during a disaster, he or she might need someone to
contact out-of-town family members.
● Who will serve as the church’s official spokesperson?
► Often that role falls to the pastor, but what if you currently do not have a pastor or if the
pastor lives in a different town or if the pastor is directly affected by the disaster?
● Who will be empowered to make decisions if it is not possible or there is not time to contact
► If someone approaches a member and needs an immediate decision, that need might go
unmet if no one is empowered to make decisions.
● What opportunities might be available to partner with other churches/agencies?
► Are there other Cumberland Presbyterian congregations in your area? Schedule a meeting with them or with other congregations in your area to discuss a community-wide disaster response plan.
● What community resources are available?
► There’s no need to “reinvent the wheel” so to speak, so learn about the community resources already in place and look for ways to fill in the needs that would be unmet.
● How are donations to be handled?
► Who will coordinate the receipt and distribution of donations?
► Is there a specific place/time when donations can be dropped off?
► Who will be accountable for and report how monetary donations are used?
● Who will coordinate recovery efforts?
► Recovery from a major disaster often takes years. Depending upon your congregation’s
level of involvement, how long will you continue your role?
► Who will serve as the contact person?
● Any time someone’s sense of security has been threatened through a disaster, there will be ongoing needs for support: emotional, spiritual, etc. What resources could your church provide to meet those needs?
When a disaster strikes your area, you will be glad that you have done this preliminary work so that you are prepared to respond in a timely, effective way.