In September 1989, Hurricane Hugo formed in the Atlantic Ocean, came ashore at Charleston, South Carolina and swept to the northwest corner of South Carolina before turning eastward and ripping a destructive path through my hometown of Cherryville, North Carolina. Geographically, Cherryville lies approximately forty miles northwest of Charlotte. No one thought that area would have even a remote chance of being passed over by the eye of any hurricane. The residents of Cherryville learned that being a long distance from the shoreline doesn’t always protect us from the wrath of nature’s fiercest storms. This year’s hurricane season has the potential to teach us, here in Georgia and throughout the South, the same lesson all over again.
Our congregations now know that they have to implement crisis management plans for damage to their facilities and for the continuation of worship and other ministries. Has your congregation articulated a crisis management plan before this year’s devastating hurricane season? I doubt it. Of course, bad weather is not the only reason we may need to implement a crisis management plan, but it is a good reason to review the plans that have been made or those that should be made.
Every congregation’s crisis management plans should include several key components: a building evacuation plan, facilities shutdown plan, evaluation of damaged buildings and facilities, and emergency communications details. When planning for the evacuation of your facilities, think through the safest exit routes from the buildings, post diagrams or illustrations of the exit routes in each room, designate points or locations where the evacuees should gather following the evacuation, and plan how to communicate with authorities and family members following an evacuation. Have a “fire drill” to practice safe exit of the facilities.
After a crisis that results in damage to your facilities, you will have to evaluate the damages and report them to your insurance company. A little effort at planning ahead will make your evaluation of damage much easier. Keep an up to date inventory of the equipment and furnishings in your facilities. A photographic inventory is quite useful in addition to a printed listing and description of the items. Keep a backup copy of all computer data in a separate location. When entering the facilities after a disaster, evaluate the foundation, walls, windows, and all parts of the building for structural damage. After flooding, beware of animals and even snakes that may have washed into the structures. Post warning signs to keep people out of damaged areas and begin the clean-up work as soon as you feasibly can.
For additional information to guide you in developing thorough crisis management plans see, Risk Management Handbook for Churches and Schools by James F. Cobble, Jr. and Richard R. Hammar. Don’t take the naïve and useless attitude that “A hurricane would never happen here.” Remember storms have struck not only coastal properties but also inland and mountain property. Be good stewards of your congregation’s facilities and resources by planning in advance a reasonable and prudent response to any crisis!