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How to plan for church emergencies

If you don't already have one, it is vital that your church put together an emergency preparedness plan. Having a solid plan will help to hasten whatever recovery efforts may be needed, whether you are faced with a natural disater, health crisis or fire. Photo by Josephina Kolpachnikof courtesy of Unsplash.
If you don't already have one, it is vital that your church put together an emergency preparedness plan. Having a solid plan will help to hasten whatever recovery efforts may be needed, whether you are faced with a natural disater, health crisis or fire. Photo by Josephina Kolpachnikof courtesy of Unsplash.

An emergency preparedness plan can be invaluable. This document defines who, what, when, where and how you will get your ministry up and running after an emergency or disaster.


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United Methodists have a long history of aiding individuals and communities impacted by natural disasters and other tragedies. This article focuses on emergencies that directly affect the church building or people in the facility.

Generally, there are three stages of emergency response:

  1. Ensure the safety and security of church facilities and provide help to victims.
  2. Assess damage to the facility and clean up.
  3. Repair extensive damage.

Not every emergency will require every step, but keep all three steps in mind as you develop your plans. In each phase, the object is to do what is necessary to return to normal operations as soon as possible.

Compile a team and collect resources

The first step is compiling a team of individuals to form a written action plan. Choose one person to represent each church department: pastoral, technology, facilities management, etc. 

Gather resources such as this UMC sample disaster and response plan or the Red Cross emergency plan templateFEMA and the United States government also offer valuable information and step-by-step instructions for disaster preparedness.

Emergency guidelines and handbooks can help you prepare for natural disasters and extreme weather situations. If your budget allows, companies such as can help with your preparations and training. 

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Identify threats

Threats include any potential situation that might affect your ministry or endanger your congregants. Typical hazards include weather-related issues such as tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, severe thunderstorms, snow and ice. Other potential threats include earthquakes, fires, in-service intruders, burglars and health crises.

Do a risk assessment: 

  • Consider your church history and what problems have arisen in the past. 
  • Identify what you have learned from previous experiences.
  • Look for ways to prevent the problem from recurring. 
  • Determine how to respond if a situation does happen.  

For example, if your church is in a flood zone and has experienced flood damage in the past, what measures can you take to protect against extensive damage if it floods again? 

When creating your plan, pay attention to safety concerns within the facility. Do the windows and doors need new locks? Are your fire extinguishers and smoke alarms in good working order?

Ask and answer questions

Ask team members to compile a list of questions related to how various situations might affect their departments. Here are a few to get you started:

  • In an emergency, who will speak to the media on behalf of your church? Who will communicate with the congregation?
  • Where will the church meet if the primary location is inaccessible?
  • How would you communicate with your congregation if you could no longer access your computers or phone systems?  
  • What steps do you take to protect individuals if an emergency occurs while people are on the grounds of the church? (This will differ for each type of emergency.)
  • Where are pertinent facility documents (property deeds, blueprints, proof of insurance, etc.) stored at your church and how can they be retrieved in an emergency? Who has access?
  • What computer storage systems and backups are in place? How can they be accessed if the primary system is damaged or destroyed? What technology companies do we contact, and who are the representatives?  

Collate your questions under the appropriate threats. Formulate answers to each question and create an action plan for each significant scenario. 

Consider how to address the situation if your building is empty and if it has occupants. Devise your plans assuming that you would be working without your current facility, power, computer system, communication, or even staff support. 

Break each plan into specific steps. Include relevant information that you might need for each step. For instance, if one step is to contact the leadership team, make sure to include their names, phone numbers and email addresses with that step.

Create an emergency binder and box

Place the plans in an emergency preparedness binder, and place the binder in a fire-safe box at your facility. Include spare keys, backup hard drives, office supplies, a laptop with battery, a first-aid kit and any other items that might be necessary for an emergency. Consider copying the information and storing it at a separate secure location.

Review and practice

Review your plan at least twice a year. Keep all names and phone numbers up to date. Practice different disaster drills. Maintain protective devices such as smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, locks and lockboxes.

The hard work of creating and maintaining an emergency preparedness plan is worth it. Emergencies will happen, but the more detailed your plan, the better equipped you will be when it is time to react.

Tricia Brown

Tricia K. Brown is a Christian author and inspirational speaker. She shares stories of life, loss and laughter to encourage women to grow in their relationships with the Lord and each other. Her recent fiction release, “Seen, Heard, Beloved,” can be purchased on Amazon. For more information about her ministry and books, visit The Girls Get Together