Churches of every size will encounter an emergency at some point. Emergencies will always occur, whether they are prob-able situations, such as a broken-down piece of equipment in need of repair, or the unpredictable, such as a natural disaster. As a pastor in a position of leadership, it is critical to ensure that your church is prepared for those emergencies whenever they happen.
Emergency planning is an ongoing process that should address the types of emergencies the congregation may face. It is crucial that a dedicated team composed of key stakeholders is in place to create a plan tailored to the congregation. These individuals can contribute to the planning and updating as needed. If a team is not already in place, this is the perfect time to create an emergency response team.
The emergency response team
The emergency response team covers four key areas: administrative, communications, medical, and security.1
Administrative. Those in the administrative roles communicate with first responders and provide relevant information to church members during a crisis. As a pastor, you and the pastoral staff may serve in the administrative area. Also include ministry leaders and church members who have a background in risk management.
Communications. Those in the communications roles will be the point of contact for the media. This team will work with your ministry’s leadership to prepare statements about the incident and keep all parties updated with the latest and most accurate information.
Medical. If you have volunteers with medical or emergency response background, use them in medical roles whenever possible. They will provide immediate medical assistance and monitor vitals until first responders arrive on the scene. Their assistance will be essential to provide up-to-date patient information to the first responders.
Security. Those in the security roles should have a background in law enforcement or emergency response if possible. They will secure the church building during and after the emergency, search for missing children or church members, work with local law enforcement, and be familiar with floor plans and exits.
The emergency plan
With the emergency response team in place, create or update the emergency plan. Conduct an initial assessment of the types of emergencies the church may encounter throughout the year. These may include fire, hurricane, tornado, earthquake, flooding, and other natural disasters. It is also essential to review non-weather-related emergencies, such as missing persons, robbery, active shooter, or medical emergencies.
Using the list of emergencies, create an action plan that outlines action steps for leaders and members to fol-low in each situation. Include what should occur from the moment the alarm is sounded or the emergency is apparent. Who will contact the authorities? Who will guide church members away from the threat, if necessary, and ensure they follow the evacuation or action protocol? Where should church members congregate once they are evacuated from the premises? And how will church members be kept safe until first responders arrive on the scene and the emergency is declared to be under control? These are just a few questions to help you begin the process of creating or updating the emergency plan.
The emergency drill
The final component of emergency planning is the emergency drill. The drill may vary depending on which type of emergency the congregation is practicing for, and the emergency plan should outline those differences.2 It is essential to share the details of the emergency plan with the congregation. Adventist Risk Management, Inc. (ARM), has created free resources for emergency planning and conducting an emergency drill.3
Set aside a date on which the church will conduct an emergency drill. Consider having the drill before, during, or directly after the main service to ensure all church members have the opportunity to participate and become familiar with the plan.
With the date set, announce the upcoming emergency drill to the congregation. Before the event, schedule a meeting outside of the weekly church service to review the plan and action steps with the congregation. Allow members to ask questions and walk through the drill process with the team. Be sure to notify the alarm-monitoring company or fire department of the day of the drill so that they are aware.
On the day of the drill, remind members again that it is the designated day for the church to practice the action steps for an emergency. At the scheduled time, sound the alarm and begin the drill. The emergency response team should carry out their specific roles and make a note of areas of improvement or moments when members were unsure of what to do. If the drill involves an evacuation, have a timekeeper record how long it takes to clear the building. One team member should sweep the building and, when ready, announce that the building is safe to reenter. Finish the drill by resetting the alarm and calling the alarm monitoring company or fire department to let them know the drill has concluded and the alarm has been reset.
Improve and repeat
Part of practicing the plan is the opportunity to update it so that the church can improve its response time and process. After conducting the emergency drill, gather the team and discuss any areas of improvement or times when church members were confused. How can the plan be improved? Were any exits blocked that should have been clear to use? Was the evacuation route clearly posted in all rooms? Did church members know where to meet outside once they were evacuated?
Assess overall performance, update the plan accordingly, and repeat. With regular practice and a commitment to maintaining an updated emergency plan, you can help your church stay safe during emergencies and minimize injuries or accidents.