Be Prepared for a Church Emergency

Be Prepared for a Church Emergency

This past week we were deeply impacted by the news of the deaths at the AME Emmanuel Church with emotions that range from shock to frustration to cynicism to rage.  It's important to remember that this was not an act of violence against a church or Christianity.  It was an act of racial terrorism. And our first responsibility as a people of faith is to engage the work that recognizes racism in all its forms and brings them to an end.  Our churches should be sanctuaries that provide a place for sacred conversations and relationships. And they should be safe.  
~ Rev. Don Remick, Associate Conference Minister 
Your Mass Conference Disaster Resource Team provides relevant resource materials pertinent to disasters and emergencies. In light of the recent tragic hate crime committed at AME Emanuel Church in Charleston, we offer you the following resources: simple emergency preparedness planning, dealing with an active shooter, and comprehensive emergency preparedness planning templates.  
Let us not forget that we are people of extravagant welcome and that we are followers of Christ, the embodiment of Love. Perfect love casts out all fear. (1 John 4:18)
Simple Emergency Preparedness Planning:
Form a collaborative planning team that includes people who can manage administration, finances, health, and education as well as the custodian, greeters, law enforcement personnel, and the pastor.  Are there people in your church with first responder experience?
Once you’ve gathered your planning team:
  • Do a hazard analysis
  • Assess your facility
  • Recruit and train volunteers
  • Network with community agencies
  • Identify needs of most vulnerable
  • Advocate for emergency planning in the larger community
  • Download available apps (such as the Red Cross Emergency App, MA Alerts, FEMA alerts, local town emergency app)
  • Consider “continuity of operations” following a disaster. This may include virtual worship and electronic  giving.
We also refer you to an earlier ‘emergency planning’ blog here.
Safety Points:
(Most of which are excerpted from a longer document prepared by Disaster Resource Team Co-Chair, Rev. Jim Tilbe):
Personal security:  Although very rare, the threat posed by a person who enters the church building intent on doing harm is truly frightening.  If there is a definite or perceived threat, contact local law enforcement immediately.
Greeters: Do you have greeters in the parking lot? At all church entrances? Do they remain in the narthex/back of the sanctuary to see everyone that enters? Is there an able-bodied congregant near the entrances?
Consider limiting entrances: Establish a few ways of entering the building so people cannot sneak in unobserved.  Other exterior doors should allow easy exit, but should be locked for entrance.
Observe: Strangers and those whose behavior is questionable should not be allowed to roam the building.  If this occurs two people should ask them if help is needed and direct them back to the group or to an exit.
Alarms:  Some churches have security systems (and) such a system might also have a panic button located in the office area.
Getting Help:  Have someone designated to call 911. If possible, use a land line so that the 911 operator will see your exact location on a computer screen—this cuts down response time by 3-5 minutes. There should be at least a few individuals with cell phones on, but on silent mode during worship.  State the nature of the emergency and stay on the line as long as the operator needs you.
Medical Emergencies: Identify key people in the congregation who can offer immediate help: doctors, nurses and EMTs.  Consider providing readily available medical equipment and first aid kits.  Would the worship service continue while all this is happening, or will the congregation be asked to pray quietly?  That depends on the situation.
Evacuation: Be sure that all doors have working “panic hardware” that allows for easy exit.  Emergency lighting is a key to exiting the building in the event of a power failure.  An evacuation plan is critical, especially for church school, and should include evacuation routes and an outside meeting area.
Children: A simple way to signal danger from another part of the building may be to use a remote doorbell. For example, the pastor could push the button from the pulpit and it rings in the Sunday School area.  Children and teachers, in particular, should practice evacuation (fire drills).
Active Shooter:
FEMA pamphlet  
FEMA preparedness  

We encourage you to avail yourself of the wealth of material FEMA has on the topic. If you are in a situation with an active shooter, you will either evacuate or lockdown/shelter in place and hide out of view.  Plan ahead and don't hide in a place where door opens out or limits your exit. When you come out of the building, do so with your hands raised and fingers spread apart.
Comprehensive Emergency Preparedness Planning Templates:
White House Resource  
UCC Resource 
State of Georgia church template   
Missouri faith-based emergency template

Episcopal Resource  
Time is precious in emergency situations. Take time now to invite your Deacons, Trustees, and Council members to create, consider or review your protocol so you’ll have it if/when you need it.  
For other helpful information about how you and your church can prepare for and respond to emergencies and disasters, please visit the Mass Conference Disaster Resource Team at:
Rev. Estelle Margarones
MACUCC Disaster Resource Team

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