Be prepared before the sirens go off
By Deborah Wipf

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I grew up in Oklahoma — wide-open spaces, small-town atmosphere, and hey, we even have our own musical. We're also part of "tornado alley," and apparently tornado season started last week. The weathermen had forecast severe weather for the night, but I wasn't too concerned and went to bed. I'd been asleep for about an hour when the tornado sirens started going off.

INDUSTRY PULSE

Does your church have emergency plans in place?
  • 1. Yes
  • 2. No

If you know anything about tornadoes, you know there's not much warning with these monsters. It's not like a hurricane where you get days of advanced notice; tornadoes show up whenever and wherever they choose like a rude houseguest — one that destroys your house. Anyway, I got up and went into the safest part of my house (my closet) to take shelter. Thankfully, the tornado touched down was a few miles away and caused very little damage. However, this was a reminder for me to be better prepared for the rest of tornado season.

We have the same issue with our churches. We have to-do lists a mile long and meetings back-to-back, so planning for disasters isn't usually on our radar. However, not being prepared can have horrible consequences.

Is your church prepared in case something bad happens? It could be a natural disaster, an accidental fire or a security threat. Do you have plans in place for how to proceed if the building is severely damaged? Do you have a plan for evacuating the building during a service? How would your security team respond to an imminent threat? No one likes to consider these possibilities, but we live in a broken world where these events can occur anywhere and without warning.
Being prepared for a disaster isn't as difficult as it may seem. You probably already know the basics; it's more a matter of documenting, organizing the information and communicating the plan. Here are a few tips to help you get started:
  1. Gather information from your internal experts. Invite leaders from your business office (they're probably familiar your insurance policies), security team (they are hopefully in touch with local first responders) and department leaders. Discuss exactly how you should handle various emergency situations such as fires, floods, security threats, natural disasters, building lockdowns, etc.

  2. Document the plans. Develop a detailed plan for each scenario and review it with local security experts (an outside security company or local first responders, if possible), your insurance agent and/or leaders from other churches to gather their input. Update the plans based on their feedback.

  3. Communicate the plans. Review each plan with your staff and key volunteers. Discuss each scenario, what each leader's responsibilities are in those situations, etc. Reiterate the plans with your staff on a regular basis. If you live in an area that's experiencing a drought, and there's a fire-danger warning, use that moment to remind your team of what to do if a fire gets close to the church. If it's tornado season in tornado alley, talk about what to do if the sirens go off during a service. Thankfully, we don't have to use these plans very often, but that means we also tend to forget them. That's why we have to remind our staff and volunteers of the plans on a regular basis.
The job responsibilities for church business administrators certainly vary from church to church, so emergency response planning may not fit under your purview. However, if your church doesn't already have these plans in place, or if they haven't been updated recently, please raise the issue as soon as possible. If you have solid plans developed and communicated for handling emergencies, the impact of an emergency can be greatly reduced, saving your church money and possibly saving lives. As I've mentioned in previous articles, these back-office functions aren't glamorous or exciting, but they are vital to the continued success and health of our ministries.

Deborah Wipf is the president and founder of Velocity Management Group, a company dedicated to helping the leaders of nonprofits with the business side of running an organization. She loves ministry, big vision, details, project plans and organization. Combining these passions into becoming a "business coach for churches, ministries and nonprofits" is how Deborah seeks to serve God and help people.

Over the last 10 years, Deborah has worked in the for-profit arena developing the skills needed to pursue her passion — helping nonprofits. Connect with Deborah online on Facebook or on Twitter (@VelocityMgmtGrp).