Emergency Preparedness

Increasingly, parishes will be challenged to meet emergency situations of adverse weather, power outages and other unexpected events that will affect their ability to function effectively. It’s prudent for parishes to develop emergency preparedness plans that outline appropriate and reasonable means by which to meet the challenge of an emergency situation, whatever that emergency may be. The following resources are meant to assist parishes in preparing an emergency plan.

Principles of Emergency Planning

The plan should identify potential minor and major disruptions. For example, some parishes are vulnerable to flooding, while others are located in areas prone to severe windstorms that may knock out power systems. Once you’ve identified potential threats, the Emergency Preparedness Plan would outline appropriate response protocols.

All emergency plans are build around the following four functions:

  • Mitigation/prevention: Mitigation is key to preparedness. It involves planning how to avoid unnecessary risks. This includes assessing possible risks to people and property and planning what steps are needed to minimize the effects of a disaster, or what type of insurance is needed to protect against the effects of a disaster. Prevention includes undertaking those actions that prevent or mitigate human hazard, primarily from potential natural disasters or emergency situations. Preventive measures are designed to minimize the risk of loss of life and injury. Prevention actions may include evacuation plans (as in the case of flooding), warning systems, environmental planning and design.
  • Preparedness: Preparedness focuses on preparing equipment and procedures for use when a emergency occurs. Preparedness measures can take many forms, including constructing shelters, implementing emergency communication systems, installing warning devices, creating back-up life-line services (e.g., power, water, sewage) and 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, readily available for all emergencies. The preparation of a survival kit such as a “72-hour kit” is often advocated by authorities.
  • Response: 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 function as emergency shelters. For others, a response might involve providing disaster assistance to local emergency response organizations such as fire or health care response teams. Response plans must not exceed the capacity of the parish; they need to be practical and achievable.
  • Recovery: The recovery phase starts after the immediate threat to human life has subsided and the emergency is declared over. The immediate goal of the recovery phase 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 the potential or anticipated emergency scenarios are identified, emergency planning protocols should include the following components: 

Emergency Preparedness Response Team

Identify individuals who will make up your emergency Response Team. Choose people with identified positions in the parish, and people who have specific skill sets. Be clear about who takes the lead in an emergency and who begins the process of enacting your plan. (Identify the primary contact as well as the secondary contacts.) For each member of the Response Team, outline their specific responsibilities.

Communications Plan

In an emergency, effective communication is essential, though normal means of sharing information may be compromised. The parish should have a communication strategy in place. Considerations may include the following:

  • What are the up-to-date home/alternate addresses, telephone numbers (home and cell), and email addresses for each parishioner? How will you contact them in an evacuation?
  • Developing alternate means of communication when telephone and email are inaccessible or unreliable. This may not be possible for many parishes.
  • A phone tree is an effective way to quickly spread information.

Emergency Response Scenarios

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

Emergency Numbers / Community Resources

Maintain a list of emergency numbers that’s easily accessible to all identified Response Team members. Here are some suggestions you should consider having on this list:

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

* Utility Shut-off Procedure – Every individual on your Response Team should know how to turn off main utilities (water, electricity, gas). In certain emergencies, authorities will ask that these be turned 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 ensure that it is 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 the procedures. Make sure emergency exits are clearly marked, have the plan posted 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 emergency 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’re required to do in an emergency, especially members of the Response Team. Document and post a list of people certified in first aid and/or CPR training. Make sure everyone knows the location of emergency equipment (fire alarm, fire extinguisher, personal protective equipment).

There are many training opportunities available in most communities.

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, Facebook page, telephone message, etc. Make sure you have identified people who will be responsible for coordinating, sending out and updating notification emails on behalf of the parish.

Others Considerations

Other areas to consider may include:

  • Ensuring office computers are regularly backed up. In the event that all computers are destroyed, how long will it take until you’re back up and running?
  • If the emergency is in the wider community, how might the parish assist?
  • 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?