Conference ministry ‘ramps up’ prevention, safety program

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Conference ministry ‘ramps up’ prevention, safety program

By Sarah Alsgaard | April 14, 2009 {1001}

NOTE: A headshot of Mark Thomas is available at

Christ United Methodist Church in Venice, Fla., was facing a safety problem.

The pick-up area for the church was a two-lane road, but people had started to use it as a three-lane road. The church has an older population, and board members were concerned a car might hit someone or strike the building.

Mark Thomas
Suggestions on how to fix the problem ranged from doing nothing to placing concrete bollards every 30 feet along the area.

Unsure of the right solution, church leaders consulted Mark Thomas, director of the Florida Conference Ministry Protection department. Thomas sent Jim Smith, one of the conference’s safety consultants, to the church in early January to evaluate the situation and offer his advice.

Smith works for Arthur J. Gallagher & Co., an insurance brokerage and risk management firm that works extensively with religious organizations. He is also national vice president of the American Society of Safety Engineers. 

“Jim Smith was able to give an objective opinion of resolving the safety problem,” said Bob Hayley, business administrator at Christ United Methodist Church. “Jim looked at it and was actually able to offer an alternative that we had not thought of. It saved us money on the over-engineering that we were contemplating and was safer.”

Smith suggested educating the church’s members about the pick-up lane and strategically placing cones in the area before services to mark the traffic pattern and remind people how it should be used.

Smith’s visit and professional opinion on a solution cost Christ United Methodist Church nothing.

It’s all part of ministry protection’s loss prevention and safety program, which began about 18 months ago. 

“We will go out and do an evaluation of a church’s facility, pre-school and everything, looking for fire and life safety issues … and then give them a written report with any hazards or issues identified with photographs, cost-effective ways they can correct (the problems),” Thomas said. “These are credentialed, certified, loss-control professionals who are doing most of these evaluations at no cost to the church.”

Funding for the evaluations comes from the conference’s insurance companies.

“We’ve gotten basically three times the funding than we had last year for this whole process, which allows us to continually improve and expand this program,” Thomas said.

The conference’s ministry protection program, or risk management as it was called, began in 1995. Before the ministry’s inception, churches were responsible for their own insurance, but after Hurricane Andrew in 1992 churches in the Keys and South Florida had trouble getting insurance and finding it at affordable rates. The conference decided then that comprehensive insurance could be obtained more reliably and cheaply if conference churches were insured as a group.

Finding the best insurance at the best rates is still a primary task of the department, but it also emphasizes risk management and loss prevention.

“We have a Web site with a large amount of risk management and loss prevention safety information on it,” Thomas said. “We also answer unbelievable amounts of questions — you know, all these ‘what-if’ questions.”

Ministry protection staff members offer safety seminars for church trustees, perform on-site evaluations and meet with church committees to provide risk management advice.

“If the churches think about safety as best they can, the safer our facilities will be,” Thomas said. There will also be fewer claims and better premiums for everyone, he adds.

“The continued collaboration between the conference, ministry protection and local churches is a true testament to the connectional nature of the Florida Conference,” he said.

Caring for people

Making facilities as safe as possible also extends to giving churches the tools they need to respond in case of a medical emergency.

A number of church leaders asked Thomas where they could buy an automatic external defibrillator (AED) for use at their church, so Thomas researched and found Cardiac Science, which he says is a market leader in Florida. The company provides the devices to all Florida airports and many municipalities and police departments.

Rob Williams gives the Rev. Daphne Johnson an automatic external defibrillator for use at College Heights United Methodist Church. Photo by Sarah Alsgaard. Photo #09-1147.

The AEDs are fully automated and provide an electric shock to someone in sudden cardiac arrest. A shock is only administered if the machine decides cardiac arrest has occurred. A voice command guides the person aiding the victim through the process of setting up the AED and repeats the instructions for each step until it is completed. The AED also explains how to administer CPR and analyzes the patient multiple times to determine if additional shocks are needed.

“The technology involved is truly amazing, basically dummy-proof,” Thomas said.

Cardiac Science agreed to sell AEDs to churches at a discounted price, making them available for $1,369 each, rather than a market value of $2,500 to $4,000.

For every 10 AEDs Florida Conference churches buy, Cardiac Science will donate one AED to a church chosen by ministry protection.

College Heights United Methodist Church in Lakeland, Fla., recently received a free AED through the program. The Rev. Daphne Johnson, the church’s pastor, had spoken to Thomas about the need for one after a man passed out in the balcony of the church during a service one Sunday morning.

“It really brought it to us that we needed to have an emergency setup,” she said.

“Sudden cardiac arrest is by far the biggest killer out there,” said Rob Williams, territory manager for Cardiac Science. He said it kills more than 450,000 Americans every year.

“Statistically speaking, when you have to wait on fire and EMS, you’ve got about a 5 percent to 7 percent survival rate,” he said. “For every minute that goes by your chances of survival goes down by 10 percent.”

Using an AED can increase the survival rate to 70 percent if used in time, he said.

“These churches that are really being proactive to help give somebody a second chance at life are to be commended,” Williams said.

Information about the AEDs and the loss prevention and safety program is available at under the administration tab at the top of the page and then ministry protection under the drop-down menu or by contacting Thomas at 800-282-8011, extension 137, or

News media contact: Tita Parham, 800-282-8011,, Orlando

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Alsgaard is a freelance writer.

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