Three recent storms caused major disruptions all over Massachusetts. The extreme weather highlights the need for emergency preparedness plans and relationships with disaster service providers. Your Mass Conference Disaster Resource and Response Team offers you the opportunity to get to know these local agencies and hear about post-traumatic growth on April 12. "Help and Hope: Faith Based Connections for Disaster Preparedness, Response, and Recovery" is a gathering of those who work and volunteer in this field. Hear speakers, talk with providers, and pick up resources. Lunch will be provided. Register here.
Do You Have Storm Plans? (And Do They Work?)
As the series of storms pummeled the region over the last few weeks, I spoke with several local church pastors about how their churches handle storms. I learned of a situation where the pastor thought her church was extremely well prepared for cancellations and storm activity, and was completely blindsided when the church protocol had multiple points of failure. I'm sharing that experience with the pastor's permission so that you might take these points into consideration as you review your own storm plans. (Suggested plans of action in italics.)
"All of our communication plans required power and the people who do the cancellations didn't have power for days." Identify someone out of state who will assume communications if local points fail.
"We had property damage. While the sexton and trustees knew about it, that information could have impacted the daycare and other activities in our church." Have an internal go-to short list for reporting property damage.
"Most of the town has Comcast and it was down. That meant no phone, internet, or TV. We couldn't email the congregation to cancel church, we couldn't change the voicemail to say we were closed, and even though we could put the scroll on the news channels, most of the congregation didn't have TV." Consider purchasing a generator. Identify someone who lives near the church that can put a note on the door if there is no other way to communicate.
" I tried to change the church website homepage from my smartphone and learned that the display was very different." Do a dry run with all cancellation procedures.
"I tried to change the church voicemail from home, but it didn't work." Practice. Don't count on the person who usually does it to do it as that person could be on vacation, out sick, or have lost power.
"I checked voicemail from home, but could only get into one of two voicemail boxes." If the box can't be accessed remotely, put a special recording on that line announcing that the box doesn't accept messages.
"I realized that we had no default plan. For example, 'If there is a snow storm, plan on being closed'." Consider a default plan.
"Emergency contact sheets were a great help and I was able to ascertain that about a dozen of our most vulnerable were safe..." Request emergency contact sheets from your entire congregation and make sure that people provide a contact person who doesn't live with them.
(Part two from #8) " ...But there are probably other vulnerable congregants I didn't know about." Identify and update that list regularly.
"I drove around to check on some of our congregants and brought food and water because power was still out." Decide who will check on the most vulnerable if you're not able to get them on the phone. Will Deacons do it or will a few people share the task? Will you take supplies, and if so, who will purchase the supplies?
"People need emergency church contact numbers before an emergency. We leave an emergency number on the voicemail, but with the power out, the voicemail was down." Provide a few emergency contact phone numbers. Also suggest that everyone find a couple of 'buddies' to text if phones are out.
"With limited communication, there was confusion about who would make the decision to cancel." Who is the decision maker or who is that group of people?
"We have a list of people to call if we cancel services, but I realized that we didn't have the Coffee Hour Coordinator or Chair of Deacons on the list." Who is on the list? Do you keep bread and juice in the kitchen in case church is on, but the Deacons can't make it in?
"Staff canceled some activities before we canceled church." Have staff members work on cancellation plans with the decision maker.
"A church member blast-emailed over 50 people to see how they were doing. That person didn't have the resources to help, that email preempted one from leadership, and some private email addresses were shared publicly." Have official communication come directly from one person.
"One of our Facebook editors posted *from* the church Facebook, *on* the church Facebook, 'Are we having church tomorrow?'" Identify a spokesperson and let the official communication come from that person.
"Once we regained power, we opened the church as a charging station." Which board or committee in your church will manage this type of project? From Estelle: Consider the implications of opening whatever services you offer to the community beyond your congregation. Are there renters or a preschool in your building? Are you a Safe Church?
"We were able to text cell to cell, but one person wasn't responding. I found out he doesn't have a smartphone and doesn't text." Ask for cell numbers from everyone and determine whether all of leadership texts.
"I got several texts, but didn't always know who was texting because they didn't identify themselves. It was awkward on a group text!" Save every number that comes your way.
"The travel ban in town made it impossible to hold services, but the decision makers weren't all aware of it." Is there a travel ban, state of emergency, or other state or municipal safety ruling that would prohibit you from holding your service? Where will you find that information?
Rev. Estelle Margarones, Co-Chair
UCC Mass Conference Disaster Resource & Response Team
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