Like Goldilocks, we may not like extremes - too hot or too cold, too wet or too dry - but there are times we have to deal with one extreme or another. Sometimes, if it's not too extreme, it's just uncomfortable and/or inconvenient. However, these extremes can pose threats to health and life: heat stroke, hypothermia, frostbite, injuries, drowning, dehydration. They can also damage property, and the damage can be expensive and also contribute to other health threats.
As church safety ministries, we cannot prevent extreme weather, but we can protect lives and property.
In the Bible
"While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease." (Genesis 8:22).
There will be a booth for shade by day from the heat, and for a refuge and a shelter from the storm and rain (Isaiah 4:6).
"There I was: by day the heat consumed me, and the cold by night, and my sleep fled from my eyes" (Genesis 31:40).
The native people showed us unusual kindness, for they kindled a fire and welcomed us all, because it had begun to rain and was cold (Acts 28:2).
The word of the Lord that came to Jeremiah concerning the drought (Jeremiah 14:1).
Then the flood would have swept us away, the torrent would have gone over us (Psalm 24:4).
In the News
About 425 BC the ancient historian Herodotus wrote in his Histories (Book 8, Section 98),
"It is said that as many days as there are in the whole journey, so many are the men and horses that stand along the road, each horse and man at the interval of a day's journey; and these are stayed neither by snow nor rain nor heat nor darkness from accomplishing their appointed course with all speed.
This was used as the basis for the unofficial motto of the United States Postal Service, which is engraved on the main Post Office of New York City in 1914.
Virginia Beach, Virginia, January 2018 - Many church services were cancelled with record cold along the East Coast. Even those that were open had lower attendance. Pastors tried to minister to those who did not venture out but stayed at home. They shared their messages through podcasts and Facebook Live.
Wichita, Kansas, February 13, 2021 - A polar vortex took freezing temperatures and ice storms all the way to the Gulf of Mexico. In Wichita, two churches teamed up to raise money to help homeless people cope with extreme cold. Money they raised bought socks, gloves, blankets, tents, and available rooms in hotels and motels.
Indianapolis, Indiana, January 2018 - A downtown church, a rescue mission, and a city agency teamed up to provide overflow shelters for the homeless during extremely cold weather. This included a temporary zoning variance for the church to provide space to house people. The mission and volunteers staffed the shelter.
Muskegon, Michigan, January 28, 2001 - The pastor of a church was seriously injured when a half-ton ice dam fell on him while he was removing icicles from the church building's eaves. One leg had to be amputated, and a resulting blood clot became a fatal pulmonary embolism.
City of Tyler and Smith County, Texas, 2018 - Churches are mentioned three times in the 2018 Heat Reponse Plan for Smith County and the City of Tyler: capacity to house the public, checking on individuals at risk for heat stroke, and providing volunteers.
Midland, Michigan, May 20, 2020 - Some churches in Midland were flooded when two dams broke. In one church, the water was waist-high in the sanctuary, damaging pews, destroying carpets and hymnals, and overturning the baptismal font. Water had to be pumped out of the basement, where the furnace was immersed. The flood waters also posed a disease risk, since they carried sewage.
Intermountain Southwest, February 2021 - As of mid-February 2021, large portions of Arizona, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico were experiencing Exceptional Drought. Even more territory, including other states, had Extreme Drought. And this is during Winter. What will it be in Summer?
Special Resource and Featured Product
The special Sheepdog Church Security downloadable resource for March is Emergency Supply List Recommendations(Essential supplies to have on hand in a disaster or emergency event). Click *HERE* to get it. You will be subscribed to the weekly email updates and The Church Guardian (our monthly newsletter).
In addition to the equipment and supplies list for the church, this document has lists for families - one for evacuation and the other for shelter-in-place. The page for families can be copied to give to church members.
Forewarned is forearmed. This month's featured product does just that by warning you of dangerous conditions. It is the Midland WR300, Deluxe NOAA Emergency Weather Alert Radio, which has S.A.M.E. Localized Programming, 60+ Emergency Alerts, & Alarm Clock w/ AM/FM Radio. It picks up alerts for your location, not only for weather, but also for other public hazards. If the AM/FM radio is on, an incoming alert will override the broadcast.
Preparing for and Responding to Extreme Conditions
What will our response be to extreme weather conditions? Have we planned the response? Are we prepared for the response? Whether we are praying for relief from excessive heat or cold, for rain to end a drought, or for rain to stop, we need to know what else to do and have what we need to do it. May we be able to paraphrase the words of Herodotus like this: "The Church Safety Ministry is stayed by neither snow nor rain nor heat nor cold from protecting the Lord's flock."
As this is being written, more than half the country, including all of Texas, is in the grip of freezing temperatures with snow and ice. In a significant portion of this, the cold is extreme with temperatures in single digits or lower and the chill factor below zero. What can and should a Church Safety Committee do in times like these?
Protecting the Building
The Church Safety Director is not directly responsible for building maintenance, but he/she can advise the church's governing board and recommend measures which will make the building safer and protect it from damage.
- Keep water lines from freezing. When water freezes, it expands. Water lines that are closed and/or have bends keep freezing water from expanding lengthwise, so the ice expands where it is, bursting the pipe. Most of the time we don't know the pipe is burst until it thaws and we have a major leak. Even if someone is there and sees the leak when it happens, the leak may be large by the time she or he can turn off the water supply.
- Insulate water lines in outside walls.
- Provide heating to keep them from freezing.
- Keep the building heated, even at a low temperature, to keep inside water lines above freezing.
- If there will probably be a power outage which will disable the heating system or cut off the heating tape, and the church does not have a generator, then turn off the water supply and drain the pipes. Of course, this depends on knowing the current weather forecast.
- Don't let ice under the roof - Prevent ice dams. This is ice that builds up along the edges of the roof (such as in gutters) or on shingles. Water melting from snow then backs up into any space available and freezes, opening the space wider. Sometimes these fingers of ice can stretch for several feet inside. When they melt, they become leaks. Unnoticed leaks may cause structural damage or foster growth of toxic mold, a well-known health hazard. Keep gutters free from debris so water can drain before it freezes. Icicles are a sign of ice dams.
- Fix all leaks before Winter - The roof, siding, windows, vents - all of these should be inspected and leaks fixed. This makes it easier and less expensive to heat the building during extreme cold. It also prevents damaging leaks.
- Don't let excess snow accumulate on the roof - Roof collapse is a hazard of heavy snowfall. That is why alpine-design buildings have steep roofs. Flat and shallow-pitch roofs are more prone to excess snow accumulation. Remove excess snow, but do it safely.
Protecting the People
Part of the above section protects those in the church from the health hazards of mold, etc., but there are other ways to protect people.
- Protect from hypothermia and frostbite - Have the building warm enough during services, classes, and events to prevent hypothermia. This is especially important when they are sitting down, inactive. If it is too cold for many members to be safely outside when coming to church, cancel services. Use a mass notification service, such as Alert.Church.
- Protect from physical hazards - There are physical hazards which often come with extreme cold.
- Most of these come from snow and ice making walkways slick.
- Ridges of shoveled or plowed snow can be tripping hazards.
- Snow and ice can fall from eaves, trees, and utility wires.
- A slick parking lot can lead to vehicle accidents.
- Water under a concrete walkway can freeze and expand, lifting one slab higher than the next, creating a tripping hazard. Rope this off to make people go around it.
- Be ready for medical emergencies - Extreme cold can be hard on health. Know how to recognize and treat hypothermia and frostbite.
- Exertion in cold air can trigger heart attacks and breathing problems.
- Some persons may be more awkward in heavy clothing and fall.
- Keep thermal blanket/wraps on hand to warm up persons with hypothermia and/or frostbite.
- Have the means on hand to heat drinking water or other beverages for a hypothermia patient.
- Have supplies on hand for sheltering people - If your church decides to open as a warming place or a shelter from the cold for the homeless or those who've lost their heat at home, have what you need for housing them. The same supplies can be used if members are stranded in the church, unable to go home (for example, if the roads are closed by a major accident while services or classes are in session).
Extreme Heat and Drought
Extreme heat and drought usually go together.
Services may have to be cancelled during extreme heat if the air conditioning fails. Keep in touch with church members and people in the local community. Check on their welfare. If the church is able to do so, it may be a cooling place. Not everyone has air conditioning, and AC units may fail when most needed. Keep bottled water on hand.
During a drought, use water wisely. Let the flowers die and the grass dry up. Grass will revive when rain returns. People are more important.
There is little we can do to prevent flooding. Be alert for watches and warnings of flash flooding during heavy rain. Services may have to be cancelled.
Is your church building flood ready? If it is where flooding is likely, determine how high the waters may rise inside the church (except in an exceptional flood, such as that in Midland, Michigan). Raise all wall outlets above that. Have the main breakers that high also and put all circuit below the flood level (such as in the basement) on a single cut-off. If likely flooding is forecast, turn off those circuits.
If your church is above any likely flood levels, it may be a shelter for those displaced by a flood. If you are considering this, be supplied for the number of persons you could house.
Not least of all, educate church members on flood safety. Also, train all church van or bus drivers in safe driving during a flood.
We can't choose the weather, but we can choose what to do when facing extreme weather conditions.
There Is More
There are three other articles in the Dealing with Weather and Disasters series. They are "The Will of the Wind" (All Kinds of Windstorms), "On Shaky Ground" (Tectonic Disasters and Other Geologic Events), and "By Human Hands" (Man-Made Disasters). The Closer Look article is "The 2002 Our Lady of Peace Church Shooting."
- Kris Moloney, "Severe Weather and Natural Disasters v3," Sheepdog Church SecurityTraining Courses: Training Materials (Classroom) [https://sheepdog-church-security.thinkific.com/courses/severe-weather-and-natural-disasters-training-bundle]; Individual Training (Online) [https://sheepdog-church-security.thinkific.com/courses/severe-weather-and-natural-disasters].
- History.com Editors, "Herodotus," History.com, February 4, 2010, Updated October 24, 2019 [https://www.history.com/topics/ancient-history/herodotus].
- "United States Postal Service creed," Wikipedia [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Postal_Service_creed].
- Heather Sells, "Snowstorm Reality: What Churches Do When it's Too Cold To Go to Church," Christian Broadcasting Network, January 7, 2018 [https://www1.cbn.com/cbnnews/2018/january/snowstorm-reality-what-churches-do-when-its-too-cold-to-go-to-church].
- Station news staff, "Churches in Wichita raise money to provide shelter for those in need during extreme cold," KWCH12, February 13, 2021 [https://www.kwch.com/2021/02/14/churches-in-wichita-raise-money-to-provide-shelter-for-those-in-need-during-extreme-cold/]
- Maureen C. Gilmer, "Extreme cold prompts Downtown Indy church to open for homeless," Indianapolis Star, January 4, 2018 [https://www.indystar.com/story/news/2018/01/04/extreme-cold-prompts-downtown-indy-church-open-homeless/1004611001/].
- Megan Hart, "Watch out for falling icicles -- they can kill -- while ice on roofs can cause leaks and mold indoors," MLive (Muskegon, Michign), February 01, 2011, Updated January 21, 2019 [https://www.twincities.com/2012/12/07/its-ice-dam-season-and-a-little-preparation-goes-a-long-way/].
- David Coble (Tyler Fire Chief), George Roberts (CEO Northeast Texas Public Health District), and Connie McCoy-Wasson (Fire Marshall, Smith County), "2018 Heat Response Plan: Tyler / Smith County," City of Tyler and Smith County, 2018 [https://www.smith-county.com/home/showpublisheddocument?id=3228].
- Phoebe Wall Howard, "Midland church swallowed by floodwaters: 'It tears a hole in your heart'," Detroit Free Press, May 23, 2020 [https://www.freep.com/story/news/local/michigan/2020/05/23/midland-church-flood-holy-scripture-lutheran/5243012002/].
- Staff, National Integrated Drought Information System, Updated February 11, 2021, Accessed February 16, 2021 [https://www.drought.gov/].
- Kris Moloney, "Emergency Supply List Recommendations (Essential supplies to have on hand in a disaster or emergency event)" Sheepdog Church Security [https://sheepdog-church-security.ck.page/35d259d229].
- "Midland - WR300, Deluxe NOAA Emergency Weather Alert Radio," Sheepdog Church Security Store (Recommended Equipment for Safety Ministries) on Amazon [https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00009V2YV?ref=exp_instructor_moloney_dp_vv_d].
- Debra O'Connor, "It's ice dam season, and a little preparation goes a long way," Pioneer Press, December 7, 2012, Updated November 10, 2015 [https://www.twincities.com/2012/12/07/its-ice-dam-season-and-a-little-preparation-goes-a-long-way/].
- Alert.church [https://www.alert.church/].