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SRC gives churches tips on preparing for next round of hurricanes

SRC gives churches tips on preparing for next round of hurricanes

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

SRC gives churches tips on preparing for next round of hurricanes

April 23, 2006    News media contact: Tita Parham* 
800-282-8011    Orlando {0476}

NOTE: See related article “Lessons learned help churches prepare to meet neighbors’ needs during next hurricanes,” e-Review FUMNS #0475.

An e-Review Feature
By Nancy E. Johnson**

Devastating storms hit Florida in both the 2004 and 2005 hurricane seasons. Now, Florida Conference churches are bracing for what the upcoming season has in store.

“To not be involved is not an option,” said Marion Sortore, area representative for the Florida Conference Storm Recovery Center (SRC). “Every church needs a disaster plan.”

PEMBROOKE PINES — Hymnals, pew pads and vestments at Epworth United Methodist Church in South Florida were soaked after Hurricane Wilma damaged the roof and caused flooding in the sanctuary. After they were laid on the church lawn to dry, members stacked them in the pews until the church could be repaired and put back in order. Photo by Tita Parham, Photo #06-343.

The Florida Conference began revising its plan last November, taking into account lessons learned during the 2005 season. The plan includes specific steps churches should take when preparing for a storm, such as designating a member to put church records in a locked file on the church Web site or giving information to an out-of-state congregation for safekeeping.

“Even though you may know what’s in every room of the church, take pictures. If your building blows away, you won’t remember what you had,” Sortore said.

Every church should keep an accurate schedule of what activities or events are going on in the building, day and night, so if a storm hits, the church knows who is where and when.

It’s important for churches to shut down utilities, like gas and electric power, and make sure there’s access to existing and emergency water supplies for the fire department. Churches should also establish communication between the church and local emergency response authorities and set up formal emergency procedures for safe and orderly evacuations.

Sortore says communication is key during a hurricane. Before the storm hits, churches are encouraged to get UHF (ultrahigh frequency) radios, cell phones and batteries and develop a list of essential people who need to be contacted before and after the disaster.

“Every church should have a phone tree to reach members, neighbors and vulnerable populations,” said Sortore. “We say inform, prepare and protect your community.”

After a storm, churches should not be used as shelters because of liability concerns, unless they have worked with the American Red Cross to become a designated Red Cross shelter. If the church building sustains damage, churches should file an insurance claim, call the district office and then call the conference’s risk management department.

Sortore said many churches learned last year that being a lone ranger is not the most effective way to help communities recover from a storm. “We saw duplication of services. We’d send a team to a site and find that another team had already been there,” she said.

Every weekend, the SRC holds training sessions for churches in counties throughout Florida. Case management training is at the top of the list as churches work long-term with hurricane survivors to help them reach a “new normal.” The SRC also works with churches to set up early response teams that can respond to disasters.

“Churches can be distribution centers for nonperishable food and baby items, but they need to plan now and start getting their pantries stocked,” Sortore said.

Sortore reminds churches they must take care of their own congregation and building first, however, so they can effectively serve others.

“If the pastor’s home is blown away and things are in turmoil, that detracts from the church’s ability to reach out to the community” Sortore said. “We want to be able to help the community at 100 percent.”

For more information, churches may go to the SRC section of the Florida Conference Web site at or contact the SRC at 800-282-8011, extension 149.


This article relates to Disaster Response.

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Nancy E. Johnson is a Florida-based, freelance television and print journalist.