Human-Caused Hazards and Disasters Such as Chemical Spills, Explosions, Pandemics, Cyber Security
Severe Weather Preparedness
... like water spilled on the ground, which cannot be gathered up again. ~ 2 Samuel 14:14
My friends and companions stand aloof from my plague ... ~ Psalm 38:11
... like a leaning wall, a tottering fence ... ~ Psalm 62:3
“The bricks have fallen ..." ~ Isaiah 9:10
… where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, ~ Matthew 6:19
And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the new wine will burst the skins and it will be spilled, and the skins will be destroyed. ~ Luke 5:37
Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them ... ~ Luke 13:4
Human-Caused Disasters, Ancient and Modern
Human-caused or human-spread disasters have been around for thousands of years. In detail, some of today's unintended disasters of human origin may differ from those in Bible times, but they are alike in kind. How about a few examples:
Spills - Many times they result from carelessness or lack of maintenance. Putting new wine into an old wineskin (Luke 5:37) is like putting oil or chemicals into a tank needing repair or replacement, or just not meeting the specifications for the contents. They are also the result of careless handling (2 Samuel 14:14).
Explosions - Certainly not exactly the same as ancient disasters, but the causes are usually alike.
Cyber Security - Does "where thieves break in and steal" (Matt. 6:9) fit the description? Besides criminal activity, computer systems can malfunction or crash.
Structural Failures - Walls and buildings have collapsed ever since people began building houses (Isaiah 9:10; Psalm 62:3; Luke 13:4). Causes include faulty design and/or construction, sub-standard materials, lack of maintenance for aging structures, and accidental damage - all human causes.
Epidemics and Pandemics - Ever since the Fall, there have been communicable diseases, passed from person-to-person (Psalm 38:11). Some spread as epidemics and pandemics.
Preparing for Human-Caused Hazards
Not all hazards and disasters are natural. Some result from human activity (or inactivity/negligence). Climate Change (Global Warming) activists warn that human activity is changing the climate, endangering future generations. This may or may not be so, but in our local churches there are more immediate threats to our safety and security. These are the hazards our safety ministries must guard against, whether to prevent or prepare to respond.
The nature of the threats depends in large part on our locality. Here are a few relevant questions:
- What is transported on the street or road passing the church campus?
- Do gas or oil pipelines run near the church?
- What industrial activity is in the area?
- In a closely-spaced neighborhood, what kinds of buildings are next to the church or on the same block?
- What activities, good or bad, are in the community?
- Are there problems with the local electric, telephone, or cable utilities?
- What are the most prevalent local health problems?
Spills and Leaks
Tuesday, November 28, 2017, Houston, Texas - An accident involving a semi carrying formic acid closed I-10 near I-610. The Houston Fire Department siphoned the chemical into new containers. They had to take precautions against inhaling or touching the substance.
What if this had happened close to your church on a Sunday morning? Or during a mid-week meeting or a special event? How would you protect those in attendance? And would you have received the alert in time to respond effectively? 
Evidently, certain hazards come with being next to or near a major highway or a railroad. Similar hazards arise from being near a chemical plant, an oil refinery, or certain manufacturing industries. It comes with the territory. That is the reason for the first three questions above. Some areas have a greater incidence of transportation hazardous materials spills. For instance, in 2014 Ohio led the nation in transportation accidents with hazardous materials.
The spill can result from a rail or highway/street vehicular accident. It could be a pipeline leak or rupture. Sometimes the material itself is not hazardous, as from a broken water main. But real health concerns come with hazardous materials (HM).
What is a hazardous materials incident?
According to Ready.gov, "Hazardous materials come in the form of explosives, flammable and combustible substances, poisons and radioactive materials. Hazards can occur during production, storage, transportation, use or disposal. You and your community are at risk if a chemical is used unsafely or released in harmful amounts into the environment where you live, work or play."  In case of a HM incident, you may be:
- Asked to evacuate
Do it immediately and stay tuned in to radio, TV, or online information.
- Caught Outside
Stay, or go upstream or upwind, and go a safe distance from the incident.
- In a motor vehicle (such as a church van or bus)
Seek shelter if you can. If you have to stay in the vehicle, close windows and vents, shut off vents, air conditioner, and heater.
- Requested to stay indoors
Close all means of air coming in, including ventilation.
There's more instruction on the Ready.gov site.
A hazardous materials spill may pose the danger of an explosion. This includes not only chemicals and commercial explosives, but more commonly gas and oil leaks. However, explosions can be triggered without a spill or leak. Some industrial processes pose this risk. Also a fire in a building or vehicle can ignite explosive materials, including motor fuel and fertilizer. Another explosive hazard is combustible dust, such as sawdust and grain dust. With an explosion comes physical damage to persons and property. Some explosions also carry a fire hazard.
Is your church prepared to receive alerts of nearby fires or accidents posing risk of explosion? If such an alert is received, what is your best response? This may depend on your building, its location, and the location and nature of the incident.
In a church safety ministry, our questions regarding structural integrity usually concern the church's buildings. But for churches located in town where other buildings are very close, sometimes even touching, their structural integrity is a concern of the church. Why? A structural failure next to the church threatens damage to the building and injury to its members.
If buildings on adjoining property, close enough to pose a risk, are structurally unsound, what should we as a church do? The first thing is to reduce our risk in case of structural failure. Depending on the location and the buildings, there may be ways to make outside walls more impact resistant, to protect windows and doors, and to shield people outside. In a tightly packed neighborhood, a reasonable precaution is fire-resistant exterior materials in case of fire in neighboring buildings.
If these buildings are inhabited, this is also a ministerial concern for those people. This brings up the sometimes thorny question of how much community activism is desirable, effective, or appropriate for your church. Effectiveness in community evangelism depends on good community relations and community ministry - in other words, our witness in the community. Our church safety ministry has a part in that witness. This means being sensitive to others' sensibilities and using discretion and tact.
In any case, a good precaution is to store copies of church records in a secure off-site location.
With cyber security a frequent topic in the news, the first thing we think of is data theft or ransomware, as in "thieves break through and steal" online. But cyber security also includes unintentional loss.
Power surges can damage computer systems, resulting in loss of functionality and data. If your security surveillance system is computer based, it would leave the church unprotected except by the physical presence of safety team members. Power grid fluctuations and lightning strikes can create these surges. The church needs surge protection for its computers.
Computers themselves can fail. Like anything else, they wear out. Computer failure may be malfunctions that corrupt, isolate, or misplace data. Computers and servers can crash, with the loss of all data. Malware in a system can degrade its performance, leading to errors, even if no data is stolen.
Cyber security for the church requires access security, surge protection, and data loss protection. It is prudent to frequently back up all files.
The first line of defense in cyber security is restricting access - who can log in to certain areas of the system. All others are visitors only (they can't change anything on the system). All persons with computer access must take precautions with items such as links on emails and websites.
Along with this is protection against viruses, worms, and malware. The system administrators should install a reliable anti-virus application.
Epidemics and Pandemics
Computer viruses aren't the only viruses we need to be concerned about. Church leadership should consider what to do in case of an epidemic or a pandemic, since it involves the health of both church members and the community.
What is an epidemic or a pandemic?
An epidemic is the spread of a communicable (contagious) disease through a community. It means a lot of people are getting the same illness at the same time as it passes from one person to others, then is passed again. The community may be local, state-wide, or national. In the Bible, epidemics were called plagues.
A pandemic is an international epidemic, from several nations to worldwide. An example is the 1918 Flu Pandemic, which spread though Europe, North and South America, Africa, Asia, and Pacific islands, killing 50-100 million people. The main factor in spreading it so widely was World War I. soldiers from many nations fought side-by-side or against each other. When the epidemic began, it went through the military camps, then to the soldiers' home countries as they returned from the battlefields.
Most deaths in an epidemic are among the weakest members of society: the very young, the elderly, and those with impaired health. In case of an epidemic, a church safety ministry and the church leadership can promote and practice preventative hygiene. This is the first line of defense against infectious diseases. It is especially effective in the case of flu when those who may have the illness, even with minor symptoms, practice it.
How can a church use hygiene to counter an epidemic? Here is a list:
- Hand sanitizer stations
- Tissue boxes
- Conveniently placed trash containers for used hand wipes and tissues
- Hygienic practices by food and coffee handlers
- Sanitizing toys, chairs, tables, doors handles, etc. throughout the day
One tool in fighting and epidemic - or keeping an isolated outbreak from becoming an epidemic - is quarantine. Quarantine is isolating individuals with a highly contagious disease so they will not pass it to others.
For many diseases which do not call for official quarantine, a voluntary quarantine may be a responsible response. For instance, if you have the flu, keeping yourself away from places where people gather considers their health (Phil. 2:3 ~ "count others more significant than yourselves"). The Old Testament Law mandated quarantining persons with certain diseases, such as leprosy. As a church, we should encourage members with contagious diseases to stay home and seek medical care rather than pressure them to attend anyway - honestly, some groups do expect you to come, no matter what you have.
There are other disasters with human causes, many less likely than covered here.
Planning for the Unplanned
Our Church Safety Ministry risk assessments should consider human-caused disasters as well as natural ones. Which ones pose a greater risk for our church? Which ones are more likely? Which ones are waiting to happen?
Considering this, the Church Safety Committee plans how to respond to these hazards:
- What equipment and materials are needed?
- How are we informed, alerted?
- What do we do?
- Who does what?
- What are our community resources?
Now that we know what to have and what to do,
- Make policies and implement procedures, then carry them out.
- Educate Safety Team members, church leadership and staff, and church members.
- Drill - Act it out to get it right
The Sheepdog Church Security downloadable training bundle "Severe Weather and Natural Disasters v3" https://www.sheepdogchurchsecurity.com/shop/bundles/severe_weather.html
Get this month's resource, "Is Your Church Prepared for Severe Weather?" https://sheepdogchurchsecurity.lpages.co/lm-severe-weather/
Hear the podcasts of this series: https://soundcloud.com/churchsecurityrollcall
Also, the first online Sheepdog Church Security training course - "Church Safety and Security Volunteer Academy" - is available here: https://sheepdog-church-security.thinkific.com/courses/church-safety-and-security-volunteer-academy