You Gotta Be Ready

Preparing the Church for Severe Weather

Are You Ready sign with storm in the background

Based on the Sheepdog Church Security Training Course

Severe Weather and Natural Disasters [1]

In the Bible

Shelter – I would hurry to find a shelter from the raging wind and tempest (Psalm 55:8).

Evacuation – So Lot went out and said to his sons-in-law, who were to marry his daughters, "Up! Get out of this place ..." (Genesis 19:14).
Now therefore send, get your livestock and all that you have in the field into safe shelter, for every man and beast that is in the field and is not brought home will die when the hail falls on them (Exodus 9:19).

Structural integrity – And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock ... And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house [built on the sand], and it fell, and great was the fall of it." (Matthew 7:25, 27)

Supplies – "Also take with you every sort of food that is eaten, and store it up. It shall serve as food for you and for them" (Genesis 6:21).)


In the News

Lynchburg, Virginia, Mid-November 2018 - More than a week before Thanksgiving Day, an early winter storm on its way. Local stores were already stocked up with winter weather supplies. A hardware store manager said, "You gotta be ready at any time, you never know what the weather around here is gonna do," [2]

Moore, Oklahoma, May 21, 2013 - A monster tornado had destroyed large sections of Moore, wiping out entire neighborhoods. Despite the extensive devastation, only 24 lives were lost. Many residents in affected neighborhoods sheltered, either in tornado shelters or in safe places such as bathtubs, basement corners, etc. [3]

Getting Ready for Severe Weather

We see several aspects of readiness and unreadiness for disaster in the Bible. David said he would rush to shelter from a storm. Lot told his daughters' fiancés to evacuate Sodom ahead of a fiery disaster. Jesus told about one house which would survive a storm and one which would not. Noah stored food for riding out the greatest severe weather event in history.

Know Your Local Climate

Various government agencies, organizations, and news media urge us to be prepared for severe weather. Before we rush to prepare our home, school, business, or church, it makes sense to ask, "What are we preparing for?" Not every kind of severe weather comes to our town or county - at least not normally. We should know the local climate. For example, major concerns are wildfires and earthquakes in California, tornadoes and heavy snow in Kansas, volcanic eruptions In Hawaii, and hurricanes and storm surges in Florida.

The Weather Underground (WU) has a list of weather situations to prepare for:

They have a page for each of these weather incidents, explaining the phenomenon and preparing for it. A church's preparations for severe weather fall into a few categories: Structural Readiness, Shelter in Place, Evacuation, Extraction, Communication, Tools and Supplies, Emergency Medical Supplies, Extended Stay Provisions, Records Preservation.

Structural Readiness

If your church is building a new facility, consider structural readiness for the kinds of severe weather normal for your local climate. The building must be able to withstand expected wind strength and be able to shelter those in attendance. Roofs in northern states should be able to bear heavy snow and be designed to shed it safely. In flood-prone areas, electrical wiring should be above probable high-water levels. And buildings can be built to survive a firestorm.

For temperature extremes, consider the best kind of HVAC (Heating, Cooling and Ventilation) and insulation for your area.

Existing structures may be upgraded for better survivability and protection in extreme weather conditions, but there may be financial constraints. Some upgrades are more expensive than new construction, and the congregation's finances may be limited.

Shelter in Place

In tornado-prone areas, shelters have saved many lives, including in churches during services and meetings. This has also proved true in places hit by hurricanes. Having a shelter or certified safe area is not enough. The members should know where to go and practice in drills.

A U.S. pastor and his wife were on a Caribbean island in 2017 during a hurricane. The hotel manager in got all of the guests into the ballroom, then moved them into an interior safe room. After the storm, they emerged from the room to devastation, as shown in before and after photos. Many lives were saved because the hotel was prepared for a hurricane and the manager knew what to do.

Evacuation

We do not often associate evacuation with severe weather, but some events call for it. Plan and drill for evacuation likely for your area. Here are a few examples of evacuation events:

Earthquake

After the 7.0 magnitude Anchorage earthquake on November 30, 2018, some damaged business and government buildings, including the airport terminal, were evacuated until they could be inspected. This was on a Friday morning. If it had been on Sunday morning, churches would have been evacuated.

Tsunami

A tsunami alert is a real possibility for coastal areas. If it came during church services, it would mean evacuation. It can happen in the United States. The tsunami from the 1964 Great Alaska Earthquake killed people in Oregon and California, more than 1500 miles away. If that happened today, a tsunami alert would be issued, enabling people to evacuate areas at risk.

Wildfires

In November 2016, the Chimney Wildfire in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park became a firestorm. In the Pigeon Forge-Gatlinburg area, some churches serving as shelters had to be evacuated as the fire approached them. During the 2017 California wildfires, entire towns were evacuated.

Flooding and Landsides

Potential landslides and flooding have prompted evacuations of communities, including churches. Several times, vast areas of the Mississippi River basin have been evacuated as waters rose.

Extraction

How to get out may be an issue after a devastating storm, such as a hurricane or a tornado. People in safe areas have been blocked by debris across doors. For instance, in May 2017 in Emory, Texas, parishioners attending an event in a church took refuge in an interior hallway as a tornado tore apart the sanctuary on one side and the parish hall on the other. EMS helped them get out.

To keep from being trapped, have doors to the shelter open inward. Secure them with lock bars. That way you can still open the door.

Communication

Communication is a key to coordination during a weather emergency. Prepare by getting the necessary communication tools. These include weather radios, two-way radios, cell phones, public address system, and a general messaging and notification service (such as Alert.church[5]). It could also include intercoms.

Tools and Supplies

Communications equipment can be included in tools for dealing with severe weather, but there is more. For instance, in winter we need salt spreaders, snow shovels, snow blowers, and - if we have not contracted for the service - snow plows we can attach to mowing equipment. We also need weather mats for the entry. Other useful items could be fans to help dry the entry floor.

What tools may prove useful - even vital - for other kinds of severe weather?

Emergency Medical Supplies

We need emergency medical supplies all year long, more so in severe weather. Illness and injury can happen anytime, but they are more likely during severe weather. Extreme temperatures bring frostbite and hypothermia in winter, heat exhaustion and heat stroke in summer. Slips and falls are a risk of icy weather. Damage from high winds threatens injury, and the stress of threatening situations induces heart attacks.

What supplies do we need?

Extended Stay Provisions

If people who cannot stay in their home or cannot get home come to your church for shelter in severe weather, can you see that they are safe and sound? If they have to stay overnight or for a few days, where will they sleep? And on what? With what will they cover themselves? What will they eat and drink? How about hygiene, sanitation, and privacy?

Suggested refuge shelter provisions include:

Records Preservation

Whatever the weather, it pays to protect the church's records. Severe weather and natural disasters are not the only threats to records. A fire can destroy everything in the office. A broken water pipe or a leak in the roof can soak vital papers. A computer glitch, clerical error, or hacker can destroy or corrupt digital files. A server can fail.

How can your church protect its records. The best answer is offsite copies. Have copies of important papers stored in another location, such as a lawyer's office or a bank vault. Electronic records can be copied to a document preservation service, or copies can be put on data DVDs and stored in the vault with the paper records.

What records are the most important to preserve?

There Is More

Other articles in this series deal with winter weather, thunderstorms, hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, wildfires, and earthquakes.

References

  1. Sheepdog Church Security, TrainingCourses, "Severe Weather and Natural Disasters"
    1. Online Training [https://sheepdog-church-security.thinkific.com/courses/severe-weather-and-natural-disasters],
    2. Training Materials [https://sheepdog-church-security.thinkific.com/courses/severe-weather-and-natural-disasters-training-bundle].
  2. Courtny Jodon, "Local stores stocked and ready with winter supplies ahead of wintry mix," ABC13WSET, Wednesday, November 14th 2018 [https://wset.com/news/local/local-stores-stocked-and-ready-with-winter-supplies-ahead-of-wintry-mix].
  3. Carey Gillam and Ian Simpson, "Oklahoma tornado victims astounded at how they survived," Reuters, May 21, 2013, 8:23 PM [https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-tornadoes/oklahoma-tornado-victims-astounded-at-how-they-survived-idUSBRE94J0TK20130522].
  4. Weather Underground, "Extreme Weather Preparedness" [https://www.wunderground.com/prepare].
  5. Alert.Church [https://www.alert.church/].