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Until the Storm Passes by

Safety in Severe Weather and Natural Disasters

picture of a tornado on a road and a field

An article based on the Safety Member Certification training module "Storms and Disasters" and the Church Security Guide article "Preparing Your Church for Natural Disasters" (updated and reposted on Safety Ministry Training, News page, as "Natural Disasters and How to Prepare Your Church").[1][2][3][4][5]

From the Bible

I would hasten my escape from the windy storm and tempest (Psalm 55:8).

Out of the south cometh the whirlwind: and cold out of the north (Job 37:9).

The words of Amos... two years before the earthquake (Amos 1:1).

And there shall be a tabernacle for a shadow in the day time from the heat, and for a place of refuge, and for a covert from storm and from rain (Isaiah 4:6).


The last line of a well-known Gospel song by Mosie Lister says, "Keep me safe 'til the storm passes by."[6] One of the objectives of a Church Safety Ministry is to keep the congregation safe during storms and other natural disasters. Depending on where your church is, the storms could be tornadoes, hurricanes and tropical storms, and strong winter storms (including blizzards). Other threats of nature include earthquakes and tsunamis, volcanic eruptions (especially ash clouds), wildfires, floods, landslides and sinkholes, and extreme heat or cold. In this article we'll focus on tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, wildfires, and extreme temperatures.

In the News

Piedmont, Alabama, Palm Sunday, 1994 - Palm Sunday 1994 saw an outbreak of tornadoes from a large storm system affecting a wide area of the Southeastern United States. Several churches were damaged. Just outside Piedmont, Alabama, a Palm Sunday program was in progress at Goshen United Methodist Church. The first anyone in the church knew of the tornado was when debris began hitting the building. Parishioners could not leave the sanctuary fast enough. The roof collapsed, killing 20 people.[7]

Nashville, Tennessee, December 10, 2023 - Tornadoes crossed Central Tennessee on Sunday, December 10. Several churches in the greater Nashville area were touched in some way, ranging from minor damage to destruction. One church near downtown collapsed, injuring 13 persons. It would have been worse, but the members tried to shelter in place.[8]

Louisiana, August 29, 2021 - Dozens of churches in Louisiana suffered various degrees of damage from Category 4 Hurricane Ida. As an example of the impact, this included 80 Southern Baptist congregations. Other denominations were likewise affected. Ironically, this was on the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The remnant of the storm regained hurricane strength as a post-tropical cyclone in the Northeast, damaging buildings in New York and New England - an echo of Hurricane Ike's remnant regaining hurricane force when it reached Lake Erie.[9]

Magna, Utah, March 18, 2020 - A magnitude 5.7 earthquake near Magna, Utah, damaged several churches to varying degrees. Among them were at least five Catholic churches and two Catholic schools in the Diocese of Salt lake City.[10]

Magalia, California, November 8, 2018 - The Camp Fire of 2018 was the deadliest wildfire in California history. It burned most of the buildings in the cities of Paradise and Magalia, including several churches. Three Southern Baptist churches were among those still standing. Of note was the Magalia Pines Baptist Church. At least 30 persons were in the parking lot ready to evacuate in a caravan. However, the fire exploded around them before they could leave, and they took refuge in the church. The building was unscathed, and fall leaves were still on the trees outlining the property. All those inside were unharmed.

A number of factors spared the church during the firestorm: fire-resistant exterior materials. No open vents or windows, open space around the building, and no oily trees or shrubs (such as pine or cedar) in the landscaping.[11][12]

Seattle, Washington, June 2021 - The Pacific Northwest Heat Wave of June-July 2021 produced record highs in Seattle and Portland. More than 125 died in Washington and over 115 in Oregon. Among other things, roads buckled and clams in Puget Sound died. In Seattle, the Union Gospel Mission set up a hydration station on the street, and organizations, including churches, opened cooling centers for those who had no fans or air conditioning.[13]

Whatever the Weather

We should be ready, whatever the weather. If this sounds like words from a song, that's close. There are at least two songs titled, "Whatever the Weather," and the phrase is in at least a few others, and for a good reason: the weather is a concern to most of us, but forecasting is not quite exact. Sometimes it may be uncomfortable, an inconvenience, or downright threatening. To this, throw in other natural threats, such as tectonic events (earthquakes, tsunamis, and volcanic eruptions) and wildfires.


By the time you read this, we'll be in tornado season. If you're not already ready, then get prepared, especially if you are where tornadoes are more likely.

large tornado in the middle of the road

The most effective way to protect the congregation if a tornado approaches the church during services, classes, or events is to take them to a safe place in the church building, one that qualifies as a tornado shelter. The second best is to know what to do if there is not time to get to the shelter.

What qualifies as a tornado shelter? The best place is on the lowest floor of the building. Some home shelters are in the ground, literally down a hole. That is not practical for dozens or hundreds of persons.

Find or make a room or set of rooms with no windows, with narrow ceilings, and with strong walls. This automatically excludes a dining hall, the sanctuary, and a gym. If the church is built on a slope and has a basement, it can have rooms built into the hill. They should be meeting or activity rooms so they're not wasted space (also people are then more likely to know where they are).

Plan the best routes to the tornado shelter from each part of the church. As with evacuations, avoid or minimize bottlenecks. Plot these on a floor plan. Post the route in each classroom, activity area, office, and the sanctuary.

Conduct a tornado drill, especially at or near the beginning of tornado season. Actually, have two drills. The second one is how to shelter close to where you are if there's not enough time to get to the shelter. For instance, students in a school practice going into the hallway and sitting on the floor with backs against the wall, heads down to their raised knees (we did this when I was substitute teaching).

In an area with a moderate to strong likelihood of tornadoes, a weather radio in the church is a necessity. Actually, every church should have a weather radio. Keep it monitored when there are activities in the church. A tornado watch means that conditions are right for tornadoes. A tornado warning means one is forming or has touched down. In that case call for in-house sheltering. I've had to go to shelter during a wedding, while shopping at the mall, and while at work when tornadoes were spotted.


red beach flag warning of an incoming hurricane

Hurricanes are massive cyclonic storms hundreds of miles wide. A hurricane is a tropical cyclone with sustained wind speeds of at least 74 mph. It is a tropical storm if the wind is 39-74 mph, and a tropical depression with a 38 mph wind speed or less. They are rated by five categories, with Cat 5 the strongest. Needless to say, they are dangerous. Areas at or near the point of landfall for Cat 3 or higher must be evacuated, mostly because of flooding from storm surges. For Cat 1 or Cat 2, go to designated hurricane-safe places.

Since hurricanes, tropical storms, and tropical depressions bring a lot of rain and pound coasts with storm surges, head for higher ground to avoid flooding.

What this means for a church is to cancel all services and events if in the danger area and encourage everyone to seek safety. The devastation of a powerful hurricane can destroy or degrade valuable documents and records. Have copies in a safe place in case your church is hit. That's what many of the churches in Louisiana did.[9]

Churches in a survivable location can be shelters for those fleeing the storm, as many churches have done over the years. It pays to have enough supplies on hand for such an emergency.


crack in a road caused by an earthquake

Places such as the Pacific Coast (California to Alaska) have a low chance of tornadoes or hurricanes, but a fair to good chance of earthquakes. There are earthquake codes buildings must meet. Many older brick buildings, such as an old Seattle school sold to a church, had to be retrofitted to withstand quakes. Of special concern in a church are standing furniture (such as bookcases) and ceiling fixtures (such as hanging lights). Bookcases and standing cabinets should be anchored to the wall studs.

An earthquake drill focuses on reactions to a quake. Focus on survivability. If you're in the middle of the sanctuary or a large dining area, hide under pews, row seats, or tables (here's when pews are better than row seats, since they are easier to get under). If in an open area, find shelter where you can, or get against a wall. If next to an inside door, get into the hall. That way, if the roof or ceiling collapses you will likely be trapped into a space instead of having the roof literally on you. If close to an outside door, go outdoors - the safest place in an earthquake.

Some places are also in the likely ash shadows of potential volcanic eruptions. For instance, the ash cloud from the massive eruption of Mt. Saint Helens at 8:32 a.m. on May 18, 1980 (a Sunday) caught many to the east getting ready for church, going to church, or in church in two time zones.


firefighters trying to put out a large fire

Here's another reason to have a weather radio in the church. Authorities can issue notifications about wildfires California's not the only state that can have devastating wildfires. The 2016 Great Smoky Mountains wildfires killed 14 persons and destroyed, damaged, or threatened several churches. Four years later, the 2020 Oregon wildfires burned over a million acres, killed 11 people, and destroyed many structures, including some churches. Many churches were burned in the 2023 Maui wildfire.[14][15][16]

Key considerations for churches are construction and landscaping (for building survivability) and warning. Looking at churches that survived wildfires in 2016 and 2018 showed that a building can be made resistant to a wildfire. If church leadership and/or the safety ministry are alert to wildfire warnings, they can cancel services and notify congregants in a timely manner. The case in Magalia, Cal. shows us that the sooner this is, then the better.

On the other hand, a church outside the threatened area can be a shelter for wildfire refugees, as were several in Tennessee.

Extreme Temperatures

By this time of year, the threat of extreme cold should be past. Summer is coming, with the expectation of hot weather. Extreme cold and extreme heat can be threats to health and safety. For churches this means being aware of how extreme temperatures are hazards to those coming to the church or to those engaged in outdoor activities.

Extreme Cold

road with snow covered cars and houses

Recent winters have seen churches cancel services because it was too cold for people to travel outside - the greater the distance, the greater the hazard, especially for the elderly and the physically-weak. A notification can make it understood that those for whom outdoor travel is inadvisable are excused.

As to outdoor activities, tell participants to dress accordingly. If the expected temperature is way too cold, it's better to postpone or cancel. During the activity, watch for and be ready to treat hypothermia, as well as frostbite on ears and nose, fingers and toes. Hydration is just as important when it's really cold as when really hot. The body needs water to circulate warm blood and keep heat-making muscles going.

Extreme Heat

thermometer show high heat temperatures

It is harder to guard against extreme heat than extreme cold. It's easier to warm a place than to cool it, and people can put on more layers of clothing. It is good sense to cancel an outdoor event with temperatures in triple digits. Humidity makes a big difference. The higher the humidity, the hotter it will feel, and perspiration will be less effective. Hydration is extremely crucial. Dehydration leads to heat stress, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke. Be sure that there is plenty of drinkable water and beverages available for an outside event. Have shade available for those who'll need it. Also, have places where heat-stressed people can sit or lie down. If the event is just outside the church building, get the heat-stressed person inside. Have ice and/or cold gel packs ready to use.


The old saying is, "You can't change the weather, but you can fix the roof." We can't stop storms or earthquakes, prevent all wildfires, or control outdoor temperatures, but we can prepare for them.

Training Resources

Training resources from Sheepdog Church Security (SDCS) are the Safety Member Certification program, the Church Security Guide, Sheepdog Church Security Academy videocasts, Church Security Roll Call podcasts, the Safety Ministry Training News (Articles), and Defending the Flock (2nd Edition), a book by Kris Moloney. More training is available at the SDCS affiliate Worship Security Academy.

Safety Member Certification

This is the primary training course for Sheepdog Church Security. Its eight training modules (classes) provide a broad as well as deep education in protecting our churches and their members and attendees. Those completing the course, including passing the certification exam for each class, will be certified as a Safety Team Member for two years. Re-certification is then required to refresh the training, update information, learn of changes to relevant laws and regulations, and introduce new methods and technology.

Three training modes are available:

The 2023-2024 season of Online Events is entering the fourth quarter. Those enrolling now can finish the course in the 2024-2025 season, which begins September 8.





Training Module


Mar 24

Sep 8

Nov 3

Safety Team Fundamentals


Apr 7

Sep 15

Nov 10

Active Shooter Response


Apr 14

Sep 22

Nov 17

Deescalating Disruptive Persons


Apr 21

Sep 29

Nov 24

Protecting Children from Abuse


Apr 28

Oct 6

Dec 15

Basic Use of Force Laws


May 5

Oct 13

Jan 5

Arson and Fire Safety


May 19

Oct 20

Jan 12

Storms and Disasters


Jun 2

Oct 27

Jan 19

Mass Trauma Emergencies

Church Security Guide

The Church Security Guide has ten articles. The first one is on the home page. The other nine are linked in a list, including "Preparing Your Church for Natural Disasters."[2][3]

Videocasts and Podcasts

The videocasts on the YouTube channel Sheepdog Church Security Academy feature Kris Moloney discussing SDCS articles (especially Lessons Learned from Deadly-Force Attacks), conducting interviews with specialists, and covering special topics. Audios of the videocasts are played on Church Security Roll Call podcasts on SoundCloud.[17][18]

Safety Ministry Training News

The SDCS Safety Ministry Training website now has a News tab with articles and a Toolkit for Church Safety Directors. The News articles include updated Security Guide articles, weekly articles, and guest articles.[4][5]

Defending the Flock

This, the first book by Kris, is in its second edition. We'll let him describe it:

"This book is designed to be a reference guide that gives you a solid foundation of training and a means to develop safety programs. It covers everything from Active Shooter Response and Child Protection to Verbal De-escalation and Use of Force Laws. This is one of the most comprehensive training manuals available."

It is available on Amazon as the leading item on the SDCS store, Recommended Equipment for Safety Ministries.[19][20]

Worship Security Academy

This is the recommended outside training source for Sheepdog Church Security. Founded and managed by the British-American security expert Simon Osamoh, it has courses and videos covering church safety and security. It also sells Decision Decks. These are like flash cards, but instead of pat answers the person has to think through how to handle a scenario on the card.[21]


  1. Kris Moloney, "Storms and Disasters," Safety Member Certification, Sheepdog Church Security, © 2020 [].
  2. Kris Moloney, Church Security Guide, Sheepdog Church Security, © 2018 [].
  3. Kris Moloney, "Preparing Your Church for Natural Disasters," Church Security Guide, Sheepdog Church Security, © 2018 [].
  4. Kris Moloney, et al, News (Blog), Sheepdog Church Security Academy (Safety Ministry Training) [].
  5. Kris Moloney, "Natural Disasters and How to Prepare Your Church," News (Blog), Sheepdog Church Security Academy (Safety Ministry Training), 2018/2023 [].
  6. Mosie Lister, "'Til the Storm Passes By," Lillenas Publishing Company, © 1958.
  7. "1994 Palm Sunday tornado outbreak," Wikipedia [].
  8. By The Associated Press, "Toddler and mother among 6 dead in Tennessee storms that collapsed Nashville church,", December 10, 2023 [].
  9. Nicole VanDyke, "Dozens of churches damaged by Hurricane Ida: 'From desperate to recovering'," The Christian Post, September 7, 2021 [].
  10. Marie Mischel, "March 18 earthquake damages churches and buildings in Diocese of Salt Lake City," Intermountain Catholic, March 27, 2020 [].
  11. Kate Shellnutt, "Paradise Fire Burned Most Church Buildings, But 'the Church Is Still Alive'," Christianity Today, November 16, 2018 [].
  12. David Roach, "'The woods exploded' amid pastor's fire rescue," Baptist Press, posted November 12, 2018 in Disaster Relief [].
  13. John Ryan, "The deadliest heat wave: Lessons from the NW's extreme heat," KUOW, July 26, 2021 [].
  14. "2016 Great Smoky Mountains wildfires," Wikipedia [].
  15. "2020 Oregon wildfires," Wikipedia [].
  16. "2023 Hawaii wildfires," Wikipedia [].
  17. Kris Moloney, Sheepdog Church Security Academy channel, YouTube [].
  18. Kris Moloney, Church Security Roll Call channel, SoundCloud [].
  19. Kris Moloney (Instructor), Recommended Equipment for Safety Ministries, Amazon [].
  20. Kris Moloney, Defending the Flock (2nd Edition), ISBN: 9798397764636, Sheepdog Church Security, © June 9, 2023: available on Amazon [].
  21. Sheepdog Church Security affiliate link to Worship Security Association [].