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Emergency Drills Make a Difference

Prepare to lead congregation to safety in case of fire or storms

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Is your ministry ready to move if a fire or storm requires people to evacuate quickly? By holding fire and storm drills, you can build the needed confidence church leaders and attendees will need to respond calmly to an actual fire or storm.

A drill provides an opportunity to identify plan improvements, without the consequences of a real crisis.
The Benefit of Drills
It’s common for places like offices and schools to hold fire and storm drills, but it’s uncommon to find a church that does.
 

Performing a fire or storm drill during Sunday services may seem unconventional, but there are benefits to practicing an evacuation when the building is full. Although churches often find a drill disruptive during times of worship or study, it’s at these times that church attendees are most vulnerable in the event of a fire or storm.

As a general rule, the more people taking part in a drill, the better. Practicing the emergency response plan on a weekday, when fewer people are at the church, limits the drill’s effectiveness.  A smaller evacuation is easier to deal with, but won’t prepare a volunteer team for handling an emergency during a full house. 

In the event of a real fire or storm, church attendees will look for leaders to tell them what to do. If there is no one to lead, the environment can quickly become chaotic and turn a potentially dangerous situation into a disaster. Swayed by a high level of uncertainty, people may begin to panic and ultimately cause other problems, such as:
 
  • Clogging popular exits and ignoring others, which slow down departures from the building
  • Members returning to the building for lost items or people
  • High noise levels, cutting off communication among leaders  

A fire or storm drill during service will instill more confidence in your volunteers because they have seen the church’s evacuation plan put to the test. Drills also build trust with the congregation after seeing that the church’s emergency response team is capable of leading them in high-stress situations. 

A drill also provides an opportunity to identify plan improvements, without experiencing the consequences of a real crisis.  

When the Alarm Sounds

A fire drill informs people how to get out of the building, away from the danger of smoke and flames. A storm drill shows people where to go within the building to keep away from dangers outside.  When the alarm sounds for either, it’s important to make sure everyone can easily discern which alarm is which, so that they can respond appropriately. 

The key to letting people know which drill they are experiencing is to use a different alarm sound for each type of emergency.  It doesn’t matter so much what the alarms sound like, but it does matter that they are easily distinguishable from one another. 

Consider Different Needs

There may be people with special needs in your facility at the time of an emergency. Perhaps they have hearing or visual impairments. Some may have mobility limitations, or don’t speak English. How will your warning systems and evacuation process affect them? 

Parents who want to reconnect with their children in nursery or Sunday school classes present another challenge. Assure parents that their children are safe, and have a plan for reconnecting families outside of the building in the event of a fire evacuation. Inform parents of these policies the first time they drop their child or student off in a child-care program at your church.  

Another thing to consider and test during drills is how your emergency response plan is affected when members of the team are not in the building. Will ministry participants who are present in the building know what to do and where to go in the event of a fire or storm? Develop alternatives to your master plan to fill the gaps you discover. 

Steps to Success

For professional recommendations on how to conduct emergency drills, contact your local fire department or emergency management authority in your community. Not only will they be great sources for information, but they also will be able to help you cover your bases when it comes to following local codes.  

To get started with a fire or storm response, consider these helpful tips as you build the best plan for your ministry:  

Fire and Storm Drill Reminders
 
  • Keep people moving calmly and efficiently.
  • Know your exits. Don’t lead everyone out the same door or try to put everyone in the same room. Establish zones that indicate where people should go depending where they are in the building.
  • Keep people informed of the situation.  A prepared statement will help people understand what you need them to do, and where you want them to go.
  • During fire drills, pick a meeting spot away from the building. This keeps people a safe distance away during a real fire, and prevents congestion when emergency responders arrive.
  • Prevent people from re-entering the building or leaving the designated safe zone.
  • In a fire drill, be prepared for the fire department. A designated leader should meet arriving firefighters and relay any messages to other volunteers.
  • Announce when the drill is over. Set aside a location for people who want to reunite if they were separated during the drill.

Explore our online Safety Library to find more information about preparing your church for emergencies and disasters.