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Prepare Your Church for Community Disaster

13 November 2011

joplin-memorial-service14A couple of weeks ago, I pulled out the emergency kit we have stored under the stairs in our house.  I do that once a year. I replace the stored water, check expiration dates on the food & batteries stored there.  I made a list of recommended items that we have not yet included in our kit (like new facemasks & work gloves) to talk with my wife about. 

Because we in the Pacific Northwest are due (or past due) for “the big one” (an earthquake the size or bigger than the Fukushima earthquake in Japan last April), we have done various things throughout the years both to prepare our home to minimize damage (although eliminating it is probably impossible) and to make sure that we could survive for several days if we were cut off from the rest of the city. 

I had never thought much about community disaster preparation for the local church until I heard Randy Gariss from Joplin, MO speak at the Pastors & Mentor’s Retreat at the Turner Convention Center last month.  Randy is the pastor of College Heights Christian Church in Joplin, MO which was one of the major distribution centers for aid after the Joplin tornado last May 22.  (Randy is pictured above to Pres. Obama’s left as the President greets the local Catholic priest.  Randy served as the emcee for the memorial service on May 29 at Southern Missouri State University at which the president spoke).

Randy spoke about the role of churches in social work in their communities.  But he also gave a very helpful list of steps your church should take to be prepared for a natural disaster in your community.  I thought it was good enough that it warranted sharing with you:


Steps Your Church Should Take NOW to Be Prepared for a Community Disaster

1. Do the Dave Ramsey Financial Peace University (or Momentum) series with your church people. It enables people have a cushion or emergency fund to help themselves in a disaster.

2. Work with the Poor. Working with the poor is a great training ground for helping people in a disaster (having systems in place, experience in interviewing people, etc.)

3. Make friends with the city/county employees. In a disaster, elected government officials become secondary. City/county employees make many decisions based on trust and relationships. College Heights had already asked the city what their biggest problems were and had gone out in teams to help fix things up. The city knew & trusted them.

4. Have at least a modest supply of essential goods. It is not what you think. It’s not water or a lot of food, or clothes. Those things pour in quickly. It is tarps to cover things & plastic containers for people to put their belongings in.

5. Set aside some money. You will get money from others to give away, but you need money for overhead.

6. Roles You’ll Need Filled in a Disaster.

Think through and perhaps talk with a group of people in advance.

a. Someone to lead a team to chase down your church people and find out how /where they are.

b. Someone whose SOLE JOB it is to partner with other agencies

c. Someone to oversee housing

d. Someone to coordinate volunteers

e. Someone to work with or coordinate a distribution center..

f. Someone in charge of food distribution (and prep if you prepare it).

g. A team in charge of receiving and distributing money (actually one person for each arm of that responsibility).

h. A team in charge of communication. The needs & situations changed every 20 minutes in Joplin).

7. Do training for people on how to walk through the system. You HAVE to go through the various processes that the government & aid agencies set up.

8. You’re going to HAVE to help with mental health. When the storm comes through: FIRST you are dealing with storm trauma counseling. After several months, you begin to deal with the SECOND wave: parenting issues, marriage issues, etc.

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