Disasters: Staying Safe While Helping Others

Many times, in the wake of destruction, churches are the first to begin to help those affected by a disaster. But do you know how to respond and keep your ministry safe?

By understanding how your ministry can appropriately respond after a disaster, you can protect your church from lawsuits and make a difference in your community.

Safety First

"Safety first," is the gold standard of disaster relief. One of the worst things you can do is to run into the middle of the aftermath without any sense of what you will do when you get there. Consider how you can best serve if you are in a position to help after a disaster. 

Contact the Local Authorities

If someone is in immediate danger, your best bet is to call 911 or other local emergency responders before doing anything else. They have the tools, equipment, and education to follow through with the rescue process. 

Know the Law

Volunteers who aid the injured are often protected from liability by Good Samaritan laws, but laws vary by state and don't offer the same protection to everyone. Before an incident occurs, research the laws for your state so you know how to best approach a situation when emergency responders aren't able to arrive on the scene as quickly as you might need them.

Take Care of Yourself

You could endanger yourself if you go into a situation for which you aren't prepared.

  • Assess your environment. An emergency can change a familiar landscape dramatically. There may be dangers not visible to the untrained eye, such as gas leaks or electrical currents, or falling structures in the aftermath of an earthquake. Do not enter into potentially hazardous environments, even if your intention is to help others. You could put yourself and others in danger.
  • Be aware of exhaustion. If you were present at the time of the disaster, take time to recover or assess your own injuries before you attempt to aid others. Drink plenty of clean water and eat well. Intense or high-stress situations can be more damaging than you realize and you could be seriously affected when it's all over.

Gather Information

It's best to leave things like medical assistance, fires, or structural issues of buildings to the professionals. But if local emergency responders have arrived at the scene and are taking care of immediate needs, you can help in other ways. Here's how:

  • Know your own building. If an emergency takes place on your property, designate someone to show authorities the layout of your building so that they can easily get to where they're needed. Also, create a list of the activities that were taking place in the building at the time of the disaster. This helps first responders determine how many people should be accounted for and how many people may need help.
  • Observe your surroundings. If you are at the scene of a disaster, observe your surroundings to help professionals assess the situation. If you see hazards such as downed power lines, broken sewer pipes, dead animals, or other health and safety issues, report them right away.
  • Provide assistance through information. If people are panicked or stressed after a disaster, it may be difficult for them to prioritize information. Since emergency professionals will take care of the most immediate needs, you can help by giving out the contact information for local aid organizations like the Red Cross or YMCA to people with questions about things like how to find a meal, where to sleep, or how to pursue other long-term needs. 

It is normal to want to step up and help where you can after a disaster. But if you are not a member of a certified team, it is important to volunteer in ways that help bring order instead of trying to take the place of professionals. When you have the opportunity, look for ways to support the efforts of qualified teams, which will benefit others and keep you and your ministry safe.

Additional Resources

As your ministry takes the time to plan for disasters, utilize the resources that already exist, and learn from professionals on how to plan for emergencies.

  • Be Informed. A great FEMA-sponsored resource about what to do before, during, and after emergencies.
  • Staying Safe in the Immediate Aftermath, from the American Red Cross.
  • Explore Brotherhood Mutual’s online Safety Library to find more information on preparing your church for emergencies and disasters.

Resources include: