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Shake, Drench & Burn Earthquakes, Floods, and Firestorms

Thunderstorms, Tornadoes, Tropical Cyclones, Nor'easters, Lightning and Hail

Earthquake magnitude scale

Based on the Sheepdog Church Security Training Course

Severe Weather and Natural Disasters [1]

In the Bible

... And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire ... (1 Kings 19:11b-12a)

... then the flood would have swept us away, the torrent would have gone over us (Psalm 124:4).

... How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! (James 3:5)

In the News

Napa, California, Aug 24, 2014 - A 6.0 magnitude earthquake south of Napa damaged United Methodist churches in Napa and Vallejo. The Vallejo church was certified for occupancy within a week, but it would take about a year for the Napa facility to be ready for services. [2]

Knik-Fairview, Alaska, November 30, 2018 - A 7.0 magnitude earthquake centered just south of Knik-Fairview (across the Knik Arm from Anchorage) downed a power line, which set fire to a church. Fortunately, no one was inside the building at the time. Most of the damage was to the sanctuary, estimated to cost "hundreds of thousands of dollars." [3][4]

Soddy-Daisy, Tennessee, Wednesday, September 26, 2018 - Torrential rain caused flooding in the Tri-State area, especially in Soddy-Daisy just northeast of Chattanooga, where a woman died. The lot and buildings of Soddy Church of God, which is next to Little Soddy Creek, were damaged, while the upper-floor sanctuary was untouched. While volunteers were cleaning the property, they also helped a nearby homeowner. [5]6][7]

Magalia, California, November 9, 2018 - The pastor and several members and neighbors of Magalia Pines Baptist Church were in the parking lot ready to head out of town to escape the Camp Fire when the firestorm exploded around them. They rushed into the church, closed the doors and prayed for safety. Miraculously, the church was unscathed and deciduous trees on the church grounds also survived. At least 88 persons died in this blaze. [8]

The Curséd Ground

In the garden after Adam and Eve had eaten the forbidden fruit, the Lord said, "Cursed is the ground because of you" (Gen. 3:17). The consequences described were agricultural, but that wasn't the end of it. About 1700 years later, Earth's first rain began (Genesis 6-8). A year that began with torrential rain, continued with world-wide flooding, massive volcano eruptions, and continent-sized earthquakes, and was followed by an Ice Age. Earth's crust and climate were forever changed - they too were cursed. Nevertheless, God promised not to repeat the Flood, showing the first rainbow as His sign.

Millennia later, Jesus said, "There will be earthquakes in various places" (Mark 13:8), and there still are. Also we still have floods, though limited, and wildfires which sometimes seem to be part of the Apocalyptic Tribulation (Rev. 8:5).

Protection from the Curse

Seeing that we have these perils - earthquakes, floods, and wildfires - how do we protect the flock? Earthquakes come unannounced, but we usually do have some warning of floods and wildfires. In all cases, we need preparation, communication, and coordination.

General Measures

There are certain measures common to earthquakes, floods and wildfires. A few are: structural readiness, information reception, sheltering, evacuation, communication & coordination, and recovery.

Structural Readiness

The kind of structural readiness for severe weather and natural disasters that your church buildings need depends on which events are more likely in your area. For instance, it is obvious that if you are in California, you should be ready for strong quakes, wildfires, and the flooding and landslides which follow a wildfire. Structural readiness means your church's building enhances the survival and well-being of its occupants, in some cases ensuring the survival of the building itself. The land is also part of the equation.

Information Reception

Your church and its Safety Ministry need to be able to receive vital information from the weather service and local authorities and service agencies. This means both a weather radio[9], phones, and possibly also an emergency bands scanner. Vital information includes weather advisories and alerts, road and local conditions advisories, and evacuation orders. The phones - landline and/or mobile - are for contact with local law enforcement and emergency services.

Sheltering or Evacuation

Depending of the nature and severity of the natural disaster and your church's situation (location and structural readiness), people in the church may have to take shelter or evacuate. Church members not there may have to be told to stay away, to obey a general evacuation order for the community, or to come to the church for shelter.

Communication & Coordination

In any kind of severe weather emergency, including natural disasters, everyone should be working together, coordinating their efforts. The first need is to inform everyone in the church of the situation and what to do. Use a general notification system, such as[10]

Coordinate the Church Safety Team using two-way radios, such as those in the Sheepdog Church Security Safety Equipment Store[11][12]. These also have NOAA weather channels with alerts.


After a natural disaster, there is work to do with cleanup, recovering valuable items, contacting the insurance company, repairs, helping injured and displaced persons, etc.

Protecting from Earthquakes

When we mention states at risk for earthquakes, most Americans think of the five Pacific states, the province of British Columbia, and maybe a territory or two. However, according to the American Red Cross, "Forty-five U.S. states and territories are at moderate to very high risk of earthquakes" [13]. That leaves very few states without even a moderate risk of an earthquake. Among those with a moderate to high earthquake risk are the states along the Mississippi and Missouri rivers and those by the Great Lakes.

Newer buildings in West Coast states must meet building codes for earthquake safety. This includes churches. Some buildings can be retrofitted to comply with codes. Churches in areas with a lower risk can be made to remain safe through moderate earthquakes. More than preventing property damage, the intent is protecting occupants from injury.

Many earthquake injuries come from objects knocked off shelves and shelves or bookcases toppling. Just look at pictures of goods in stores all over the floor, with entire racks on their sides. In the church, secure bookshelves and self-standing cabinets to studs to keep them from toppling in all but the strongest quakes

For the time being, there is no way to warn of a quake before it happens. Train and drill church members in what to do in an earthquake: get under sturdy furniture for protection against objects falling down, then hang on. Stay away from windows to avoid glass cuts. When the shaking is over, go outside to a safe area and wait for the building to be inspected for safety. There may be aftershocks.

Protecting from Floods

"The water runs deep, and the river runs high." In many places and for many reasons, this has been true, often for the first time in a long time. In the past twenty years, several locations have had hundred-year floods. How your church deals with flooding depends on where it is located. Is it on high ground, low ground, or in between? The Soddy-Daisy church in the news story above is on low ground with a creek on one side. Experts in flood safety advise having electrical outlets above probable high-water levels. They also advise water-resistant materials on the lower walls,

Pay attention to flash flood warnings and conditions leading to steadily rising floodwaters. What if rising waters threaten your church on a Sunday morning? Is someone monitoring the level of nearby streams? How soon do you warn the congregation? Where will they go? If your church is on high ground, are you ready to take people in who are displaced by flooding?

Protecting from Wildfires

Recent years show that wildfires are possible in many places, depending on the terrain and vegetation. As we learned in November-December 2016 with the Great Smoky Mountains wildfires in Tennessee, the West is not the only part of the country at risk for massive wildfires and firestorms. Over one hundred years ago in 1918, the Cloquet Fire in northern Minnesota killed hundreds of people and blackened a large swath of land. Whatever the cause, natural or human, when conditions are right, a small wildfire can spread rapidly and cover a lot of territory.

Churches have been damaged and destroyed by wildfires. Churches have also sheltered wildfire refugees and been staging places for firefighters. In Tennessee, some churches serving as shelters had to be evacuated. If a wildfire threatens the location of your church, the best thing to do is tell everyone to evacuate, get out of town.

On the other hand, some church buildings have survived wildfires while everything around them was devastated, such as the Banner Baptist Church in Gatlinburg, TN and the Magalia Pines Baptist Church near Paradise, CA. As recorded in the news story above, the Magalia church actually protected people from the firestorm.

A close look at images of these two buildings reveals metal roofs, non-combustible or combustion-resistant exteriors, and no visible unscreened vents. Also, except for a few deciduous trees, no shrubbery or trees were close to the buildings. Surviving homes in these areas share these characteristics. The message is that a church can be built and/or equipped to survive wildfires.

There Is More

Other articles in this series deal with winter weather, preparations, windstorms, lightning, and hail.


  1. 1. Sheepdog Church Security, TrainingCourses, "Severe Weather and Natural Disasters"
    1. Online Training [],
    2. Training Materials [].
  2. Linda Bloom, "Update: Downtown Napa earthquake damage includes church," UM News, August 25, 2014 [].
  3. Anon., "Damaged power lines from earthquake suspected cause of church fire in Anchorage, Alaska," Global News, November 30, 2018 [].
  4. Lauren Maxwell, "Fairview pastor thankful despite earthquake, fire," KTVA, Thursday, December 6th 2018, 4:49 PM AKST [].
  5. Ben Benton, "One dead in Soddy-Daisy flooding; record-setting rain pummels tri-state area," Times Free Press, September 26th, 2018 [].
  6. Taylor Stewart, "Soddy-Daisy church recovering from flash flood damage pays it forward," News Channel 9 ABC, September 30th 2018 [].
  7. Five posts about flood damage, Soddy Church of God page on Facebook, Sept. 27 & 29, 2018 [].
  8. Will Maule, "‘We Were Totally Unscathed': Pastor Recalls Miraculous Wildfire Survival Despite Church Group Being Surrounded By Raging Inferno," CBN, November 15, 2018 [].
  9. MIDLAND WR300 Weather Radio, Sheepdog Church Securty Safety Equipment Store, Amazon [], accessed 02/18/2019.
  10. [].
  11. Midland - GXT1000VP4, 50 Channel GMRS Two-Way Radio, Sheepdog Church Securty Safety Equipment Store, Amazon [], accessed 02/18/2019.
  12. MXT115, 15 Watt GMRS MicroMobile Two-Way Radio, Sheepdog Church Securty Safety Equipment Store, Amazon [], accessed 02/18/2019.
  13. Anon., "Earthquake Safety," American Red Cross [].