Emergency Planning

Planning for emergency response, whether for an event that happens in the parish or in the broader community, is a good way to ensure the long-term viability and security of the parish.

Pandemic preparedness

COVID-19 updates

For statements, pastoral letters and other information from the Diocese about COVID-19, see the COVID-19 Updates page.

Pandemic response plan

In 2006, in response to global concerns regarding the possibility of an influenza pandemic, the College of Bishops created a working group to prepare a diocesan Pandemic Response Plan. It contains a communications strategy for the Diocese and theological reflections on risk, illness and our pastoral response. It also includes a pandemic preparedness checklist that can help your parish develop its own pandemic plan.

Transmission of disease via the common cup

A diocesan report on the Transmission of Disease via the Common Cup contains the following information:

Intinction (dipping the bread into the chalice) is not an acceptable practice in the Diocese of Toronto, since it’s a significant health hazard.

Emergency preparedness

At times, parishes need to meet emergency situations like adverse weather, power outages and other unexpected events that will affect their ability to function. It’s a good idea to develop emergency preparedness plans that outline appropriate and reasonable ways to meet the challenge of an emergency situation.

Principles of emergency planning

The plan should identify potential minor and major disruptions. For example, some parishes may be vulnerable to flooding, while others are in areas prone to severe windstorms. Once you identify potential threats, your emergency preparedness plan should outline appropriate response protocols.

All emergency plans are built around the following functions:


Mitigation involves planning how to avoid unnecessary risks. This includes:

  • assessing possible risks to persons and property
  • planning what steps you need to take to minimize the effects of a disaster
  • understanding what type of insurance you need to protect against the effects of a disaster

Prevention includes undertaking those actions that prevent or mitigate human hazard from potential natural disasters or emergency situations. Preventive measures are designed to minimize the risk of loss of life and injury. They might include evacuation plans, warning systems, environmental planning and design.


Preparedness focuses on preparing equipment and procedures for use when an emergency occurs. Preparedness measures can take many forms, including:

  • building shelters
  • implementing emergency communication systems
  • installing warning devices
  • creating back-up life-line services (power, water, sewage)
  • rehearsing evacuation plans

Preparedness means planning for as many different types of events as possible. Most importantly, it means having equipment and resources safely stored and maintained so they’re readily available for all emergencies. Authorities often suggest preparing a survival kit such as a “72 hour-kit.”


The focus of an emergency response is fulfilling the basic humanitarian needs of the affected population. For some parishes, this may involve opening church buildings to serve as emergency shelters. For others, a response might involve giving disaster assistance to local emergency response organizations.

Response plans must not exceed the capacity of your parish. They need to be practical and achievable.


The recovery phase starts after the immediate threat to human life has subsided and the emergency is declared over. The immediate goal is to bring the affected area back to normalcy as quickly as possible. Recovery plans are unique to each parish and may take several months or years to complete, depending on the scope of the emergency

Once you’ve identified the potential or anticipated emergency scenarios, your emergency planning protocols should include the following components.

Emergency preparedness response team

Identify individuals who will make up your response team. Choose people with identified positions in the parish or who have specific skill sets. Be clear about who takes the lead in an emergency and who starts the process of enacting your plan. (Identify the primary contact as well as the secondary contacts). Outline the specific responsibilities of each member.

Communications plan

In an emergency, effective communication is essential, though normal means of sharing information may be compromised. You should have a communication strategy in place. Consider:

  • What are the up-to-date home or alternate addresses, phone numbers and email addresses for each parishioner? How will you contact them in an evacuation?
  • Alternate means of communication when phone and email are inaccessible or unreliable
  • A phone tree is an effective way to quickly spread information

Emergency response scenarios

Create a list of possible emergency situations by completing a risk assessment that identifies potential threats. Once your list is complete, develop an action plan for dealing with each situation. Possible emergency situations could include fires, floods, ice storms, intruders or threats to a person or property.

Emergency numbers/community resources

Maintain a list of emergency numbers that is easily accessible to the members of your response team. Here are some suggestions:

  • Police department (non-emergency, local number)
  • Fire department (non-emergency, local number)
  • Insurance broker
  • Churchwardens
  • Clergy
  • Area bishop’s office
  • Utility companies (gas, hydro, phone)
  • Tradespersons (HVAC, plumber, electrician, locksmith)

Utility shut-off procedure

Every member of your response team should know how to turn off main utilities (water, electricity, gas). In certain emergencies, authorities will ask you to turn them off for safety reasons. Write out instructions, if needed, and post them somewhere visible. Everyone should also know where the floor drain is located and make sure it’s not obstructed, in case of flooding.

Identify evacuation procedures

Make sure you have an up-to-date evacuation procedure and that employees, parishioners, volunteers, licensees and anyone using the property is aware of it. Make sure emergency exits are clearly marked, post the plan in the building, practice the evacuation procedures and identify an appropriate evacuation “safe meeting place.”

Hold emergency drills at least once a year to make sure everyone knows what to do in an emergency and to test the effectiveness of the exit routes and procedures. Keep records of these drills. You may want to do this on a Sunday when the community has gathered or during the week when employees and volunteers are in the building.

Education and training

Identify what training needs to be completed so that everyone understands their role and what they need to do in an emergency, especially members of the response team. Document and post a list of people certified in first aid and CPR. Make sure everyone knows the location of emergency equipment (fire alarm, fire extinguisher, personal protective equipment).

Notification protocols

Decide how you will communicate with parishioners, licensees and the general public if the building won’t be available. Identify someone to update your website, social media, phone message, etc. Make sure you have identified people who will be responsible for coordinating, sending out and updating emails on behalf of the parish.

Other considerations

Other areas to consider may include:

  • Making sure office computers are regularly backed up. If all your computers were destroyed, how long would it take to get back up a running?
  • If the emergency is in the wider community, how might the parish help?
  • How will offerings be secured?
  • What are your insurance limits, deductible and coverage? Who do you contact for a claim?
  • Do you have a current listing of inventory/assets? Do you store an extra copy offsite?