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Preparing to Minister when a Disaster Strikes

Preparation is key to helping others effectively

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A relief worker hugs a victim of crisis

With this season's severe winter weather events, many congregations may open their doors at a moment's notice to shelter those fleeing from the storm. Many more will scramble to react, unprepared for this ministry opportunity. Is your church or ministry ready to respond?

Be Prepared

Having a ministry disaster response plan can help eliminate confusion, speed response, clarify roles, limit misguided efforts, and reduce liability risks in the wake of an emergency.

Here are some suggestions for building a disaster response framework:

Form a disaster relief committee. Find volunteers passionate about serving those in crisis. They can create a committee to lead the church in preparation and training.

Recruit volunteers. You'll need people with diverse talents, including administration, hospitality, leadership, counseling, medical training, construction, and outreach.

Decide what resources to offer. A few options include:

  • Serving as a community shelter, feeding site, or distribution center.
  • Sending work crews to distant cities or states.
  • Supporting affected churches or individuals financially.

Talk with your insurance agent. Find out whether your insurance policy will cover your planned response efforts. Ask for advice on limiting the liability risks your congregation assumes.

Discuss funding. Decide how much money to reserve for disaster response.

Train workers. While unskilled laborers can help after a disaster, your responders should have special training or experience if they'll be providing such services as emergency medical care, crisis counseling, food preparation or tree removal.

Prepare paperwork. For a work team, your church should have:

  • Medical and liability release forms - authorize medical treatment, designate the church insurance policy as secondary to a volunteer's personal health insurance coverage, and release the church from liability for damages or injury that may occur during disaster response.
  • Emergency contact forms - specify whom to contact after an accident or injury.

For a temporary shelter, your church should have:

  • Written policies and procedures for staff and volunteers
  • Sign-in (sign-out) sheets for guest registration
  • Emergency contact forms for guests
  • Rules guests must follow while in your shelter

For expense reimbursement, you may also need to complete forms required by the American Red Cross or the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Inform others of your availability. Tell local emergency response officials, your denominational relief organization, and the American Red Cross what services you're willing to provide as part of the emergency response network.

Organize communication. After a disaster in your community, you'll need to:

  • Inform your insurance company, denomination, and other officials of any damage to your church.
  • Provide a way for members to communicate their needs to church leaders.
  • Tell disaster response officials how your church can be used in the relief effort.
Learn From Others

Benefit from the wisdom of those with experience. Visit the website of your denomination's relief organization or the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or call your local chapter of the American Red Cross or The Salvation Army to find guidelines that could be adapted for your use.