Saturday, May 30, 2015

Keeping Your Members Safe

Imagine you’re sitting at church and all of a sudden you have an emergency situation requiring some form of emergency action. Would your church know what to do to save lives? Does your church even have some type of emergency plan in place? Do you have designated members appointed who would know what to do and could take charge in any emergency that may arise?

You’d be surprised how many churches do not.  Many think that the chances of something happening at their church, particularly when services are in session, are extremely rare. But it only takes one time for people to be seriously injured and/or killed. I don’t think any church wants to have that on their conscience.

It is critical to have an Emergency Operations Plan (EOP) in place regardless of what you think the chances are of having an emergency situation actually occur. The time you take to put one in force will be well worth the effort if an emergency should happen.

The first thing you can do is to get a copy of the state or local risk assessment from your local emergency management agency. This assessment would contain information of potential threats and hazards in your community that could also affect churches. Depending on the part of the country you live in, you could be susceptible to fires, tornadoes, earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, violence, and so on.

There isn’t room in this article to go over every single detail, but I would like to give some basics, and will also note a very good resource at the end to help you put together an effective EOP.

1. OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) requires the posting of building evacuation plans, fire evacuation maps, and emergency exit signs above all doors in order to meet the building code requirements.

2.  Make sure that you have sufficient fire extinguishers and have numerous people trained to use them. They should be hung in easy access areas.

3.   Have a detailed evacuation plan in case you need to evacuate everyone from the building. All exits should be clear at all times; all doors should open outwards.

4.   Appoint a safety team of members who attend regularly and train them how to get people out as quickly and as safely as possible. Appoint “Buddies” who are those that will help the disabled and elderly.

5.    You should have a safe area in the event of a tornado. Check with your town’s fire department to verify what the siren means. Some set them off for severe thunderstorm warnings and/or because an actual tornado has been sighted in the area. In the event of a tornado, do not stay in the open sanctuary or any open room. Get people into the smallest areas, away from doors, windows, and as close to structured walls as possible.

6.  In the event of a fire or even a hint of a fire, evacuate everyone to a safe area away from the church. Immediately call 911. Keep everyone together. Do not move cars unless you need to make room for emergency vehicles.

7.  Churches should be equipped with emergency lights that come on in the event the electricity should go out.

8.   In the event of any evacuation, your EOP team should quickly “sweep” all rooms to make sure everyone has gone to the designated areas. Call out so people can hear you. Make sure that everyone is accounted for.

9.   A team should be trained for first aid. You might want to look into getting an automated external defibrillator. Some organizations will donate to churches if they have a certain number of members. Have a good-sized first aid kit easily accessible.

10. The toughest one is if someone comes into your church with a gun. This is when you apply the Run/Hide/Fight rules. (See link below.)

11. Supply your local fire and police departments with a reliable contact name and phone number with a backup. You can also give them your building schematics which they will keep on file.

Obviously, there are many more details one should consider in developing your EOP. I found a very good source of information on the site that will give you an excellent starting point:

When it comes to church safety, the saying “it’s better to be safe than sorry” is a very good motto to keep in mind. Don’t wait. Lives could depend on it.

Published in the Unity Leaders Magazine, Winter 2014 issue, pgs 29 & 30.

Addendum:  The picture of the tornado was taken in Cookeville, TN during the March 2, 2012 severe storm that hit areas in surrounding Cookeville pretty hard.  This picture is taken from Algood looking towards Cookeville on 10th Street.  Near/under this tornado were two churches and a college.

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