Top 10 Church Emergency Preparedness Procedures

Top 10 Church Emergency Preparedness Procedures

As we approach the end of the calendar year, we’ll find ourselves with lots of “Top 10” lists. Ours doesn’t look back, it looks forward! Your Disaster Resource Team encourages you to consider the Top 10 Church Emergency Preparedness Procedures that you can employ now to ensure you’re prepared in the event of an emergency or disaster. Below the list, you’ll find more information about each topic.
  1. Fire Drill
  2. Snow Policy
  3. Emergency Contact Information
  4. Financial Data
  5. Insurance
  6. Safe Church Policy
  7. Disruptive Persons Policy
  8. Smoke and CO Detectors
  9. Emergency Lights
  10. Lockbox
1. Fire Drills are excellent ways to ensure that everyone knows the protocol for evacuating the building. Have you determined how to let the church school know about an event taking place in the building? (Do cell phones work in the basement?) Do you have a meeting place? Are there people designated to call 911 or local emergency management personnel? Are your exits clearly marked and unobstructed? Are there people to assist mobility impaired persons? Do you know if have a fire alarm? Do you know how to turn it on?
2. A Snow Policy should be determined and communicated before the need arises. Who makes the call whether or not to hold services and how is that information disseminated? Will it be on your website? Facebook? Church answering machine? Do you have a group e-blast or text message? Is there a phone tree? Do the pastor, administrator, moderator, and sexton know how to change the church voicemail?  Does someone live near the church to see if the street and lot have been plowed? Who clears the sidewalks/steps? Pastors, have you left an extra sermon tucked away in a file in case you can’t make it in?
3. Emergency Contact information is crucially helpful in a number of situations. For example, in the event of a natural disaster, if congregants can’t be reached, it’s helpful to be able to contact family members for information.  If there is an event in the building, it’s helpful to be able to contact family members immediately. If a congregant transports another for church, Bible Study, etc… and there is an event such as a fall, it’s helpful to be able to contact family members immediately.  Does the office/pastor have Emergency Contact information? And is it available outside of the building via thumb drive or in the cloud?
4. Financial Records are critical to running a church. Often, they’re maintained by one or two people and locked in the church office. If there’s ever a reason that the building is deemed unsafe (God forbid!) due to fire or a roof collapse, what happens to those records? Are they backed up in the cloud? On a thumb drive? Is there more than one copy? Technology changes frequently--is the format still viable?
5. Insurance is crucial. Does the church have insurance? Have you reviewed your policy recently? Have you made any additions to your building? Do you have enough insurance? Are you covered for the things you do in your building (ie: if you serve alcohol at events, is that in your policy)? If you have renters, do they have their own current insurance? Do you have a copy of your policy outside of the building? Do you have your agent’s contact information outside of the building?
6. A Safe Church Policy is an excellent way of keeping the most vulnerable among us safe, including our children and youth. In its most basic form, a safe church policy ensures that a child is never alone with just one adult unless that adult is the child’s parent or guardian and that two unrelated adults are with children at all times. When a church is a ‘safe church’, this policy extends to all renters and anyone who has a key to the building. The Insurance Board has encouraged local churches to adopt written Safe Church policies. More information and a sample Safe Church Policy can be found here. Local churches are encouraged to adapt a safe church policy to meet their needs, circumstances, and state laws.
7. A Disruptive Behavior Policy helps to maintain safety and decorum in the event that someone tries to disrupt a worship service or meeting with inappropriate or threatening behavior. This policy usually outlines the types of actions that will be taken in response to such behaviors. More information and examples of such policies can be found here. A Behavioral Covenant is one way for the congregation to encourage respect for all and to invite different perspectives. Such a covenant outlines expectations for congregational interaction. Gil Rendel has written Behavioral Covenants in Congregations: A Handbook for Honoring Differences.  
8. Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Detectors are must-haves. You’ve likely checked yours at home, but have you checked them at church? Are your smoke detectors hard wired or do they require batteries? Do you change the batteries regularly, with the type suggested by the manufacturer? Who knows where they’re located? What about the CO detectors? When were the devices last swapped out? Are you following manufacturer’s guidelines for replacing the detectors? Have you checked for any recalls?
9. Emergency Lights are required. Do you know how to check the batteries in yours? Are they up to date? Do you have spare batteries on hand and do you know where to purchase them?
10. Lockboxes are used by many churches. If you keep a key outside in a lockbox, either for the fire department or the cell tower subcontractors, are your most current keys in there and are they labeled correctly?

Have a blessed Christmas and happy & SAFE new year!
Estelle Margarones is a member of the Massachusetts Conference Disaster Resource Team.
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