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Time to Build an Ark – Preparing Your Church for a Disaster

Jean Rowe September 11, 2013

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How Will Disasters or Other Emergencies Affect Your Church?

If your organization is in the middle of a serious disaster or emergency, it will undoubtedly be affected by the limited or unavailable services we have come to expect and rely upon. For example, have you ever considered how your power company might be impacted by a disaster? As consumers, we expect electricity to work most of the time. Electricity is part of the national infrastructure, and it is critical for safety, security, and quality of life. Hospitals are also expected to respond quickly in situations that cause a serious increase in the number of patients coming to the emergency room, such as hazardous material spills, widespread injury, or outbreaks of devastating diseases, such as the avian flu. But, what if the hospital itself were in the midst of the disaster?

Would You be Ready to Protect and Serve Your Flock and Community if Disaster Strikes?

Now, let’s consider your organization’s readiness. If disaster were to strike today, what would you do tomorrow? Consider the following questions about your ministry:

  • What services do you provide for your community that may seriously impact the lives of others, and would you be able to continue an appropriate level of support?
  • How would a disaster increase the needs in your community, which in turn would increase the community’s dependence on your organization? For example, if your organization manages a food bank, a clothing shop, a daycare center, a soup kitchen, English lessons, job training, or a medical ministry, how will you prioritize what is more important to recover,  when it should be recovered, and at what level it will be recovered?
  • Can your organization react and respond to any type of disaster that affects your organization, your community, or both?
  • Have you identified alternates in case key staff members are unavailable to manage and direct recovery efforts?

Be Ready to Serve When the Worst Happens

Create a Communication Plan

  • Communication is a key success component at time of disaster.
  • Decide how everyone in your organization will be notified of updates, and know what your management team is doing to react and recover.
  • Determine how often your organization will communicate, and try to pre-script as many messages as you can ahead of time depending on the disaster scenario.
  • Select someone who will deal with the media. Identify the spokesperson(s) for your organization, and make sure he or she is prepared to handle an interview and answer questions.
  • For your critical and essential staff, keep up-to-date call trees that include emergency contact information.  Home numbers, office numbers, pagers, cell phones, and work and personal e-mail addresses should be included on this list. It should be updated at least quarterly and distributed.

Prepare Senior Staff

Is your senior management team prepared?

  • At a minimum, make sure you have an agreed-upon crisis communications plan and test it.  A crisis communications plan should contain check lists for various staff members and/or teams that would be activated in an emergency or crisis.
  • Depending upon the size of your organization, you may need a communications team, an operational recovery team, a logistics team, and a finance team.
  • Decide if your crisis management team would need to establish an Emergency Operations Center at another site to support your organization’s recovery as well as the community.

Set Priorities

It is important to determine what the priorities for recovery are after the initial response to an emergency or crisis. Consider the following:

  • What will you recover first?
  • How will you recover?
    • If your organization is widely dependent on information technology for its support, develop appropriate systems/applications, offsite backups, and a plan for restoring your computer systems.
    • Document and test your detailed continuity plan. It should outline Who, What, When, Where, and How your organization’s business processes will be recovered.

Document Your Recovery Plan

Once you have determined the priorities for recovery, it is important to document the plan and train the team(s) responsible to react, respond, and recover from a disaster.  At a minimum, your organization’s plan should contain:

  • Disaster Declaration Procedures
  • Emergency Evacuation Procedures
  • Communications Procedures
  • Notification Procedures
  • Contact info for all internal and external dependencies
  • Recovery locations (primary and secondary)
  • Team leaders and alternates
  • Recovery Checklists/Plans over time (what to do hour 1, day 1, day 10 etc.)
  • Work procedures

 

About the Author

Jean Rowe has over 18 years of experience in the field of business continuity, crisis management, and emergency response and is internationally recognized in the field. She is the Managing Director of BC Pathfinders, a consulting firm specializing in business continuity and crisis management.  Prior to this, she was the business continuity manager for several global organizations including Verisign Inc., the World Bank Group, and the International Monetary Fund. She is a published author and frequently speaks at industry conferences and seminars.

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