Are you ready for hurricane season? It started June 1, so it’s time to set up or review a disaster plan for your church and to consider how you will respond if a storm hits your community.
|Do you remember your hurricane evacuation route or where your nearest hurricane shelter is located?|
LaNita Battles, director of ministry protection, said the Florida Conference sends out reminders to churches about preparing for hurricane season. Churches are insured through the Conference and should review their coverage every year, she said. Every church also should have an emergency action plan.
“A lot of our folks are very seasoned, but we all could use a refresher,” she said.
Then congregations need to figure out how they will respond to the community.
“It’s definitely a mission opportunity,” said Pam Garrison, disaster response coordinator. “In a crisis, people turn to the church. It is so important for pastors and lay leaders to know what to do and that they are prepared to minister to the community. If you don’t know what to do, call someone who has done it.”
Garrison urges congregations to give serious thought to what they have to offer the community in an emergency.
“What does the congregation already do well? Ask, what is our capacity? What does that look like when disaster strikes?” Garrison said. “It’s not rocket science. They just need to take the time to think about it. We’re in denial hoping it won’t hit, but in Florida that’s a dangerous place to be.”
Before the storm
Assess your church’s readiness. Trim tree limbs, sandbag doors, take an inventory of property and check insurance coverage, especially the hurricane deductible. If possible, put aside funds to cover damage that isn’t covered by insurance.
Find out if the church is in a flood zone.
|Suntree filled a truck with supplies for Key West UMC.|
Pastor Terri Hill of Key West United Methodist Church put its ice machine to work and bagged ice the week before the storm. “If the power goes out, it’s at a premium,” Hill said.
If not ice, maybe assemble sandbags in the parking lot. Youth groups can put together buckets of cleaning products to be distributed after the storm.
Churches should update the contact information for members and find out where they plan to ride out the storm. Then circle back after the storm and check on those who stayed.
Reach out to emergency management and other churches and community organizations offering to team up.
If a church has space to use as a shelter, figure out how many beds it can accommodate and make sure you have enough supplies: toilet paper, paper towels, soap, etc. Several churches brought in shower trailers.
Key West UMC is in one of the few areas of Monroe County that isn’t in a flood zone. At the last minute, five church members asked if they could stay at the church during the storm.
“It was fabulous,” Hill said. “We lost a window to a tree limb, and they immediately covered it so there was no water damage inside. They had a landline and became a conduit for communications. I posted updates about people on Facebook. That was enormously helpful.”
After the storm
Look around the immediate neighborhood, for people who might need assistance, cold water or a listening ear, Garrison said.
If you have electricity, offer people a place to charge their phones, cool off or have a meal.
|If you find you have a surplus of supplies, where can you distribute them? Do you know your neighbors? You may be able to work together after the storm.|
If you have a daycare, offer parents or emergency workers a place to leave children while they tend to the crisis.
Offer respite to first responders, providing a place to eat, nap and maybe wash their uniform.
Offer to cook food that people are in risk of losing because the power went out.
Distribute emergency supplies, food, water and information about community resources. Set up computers and phones so people can access emergency services.
“My former congregation at Suntree (United Methodist Church) filled a 21-foot U-Haul with everything imaginable — generators, chainsaws, diapers, Gatorade, water, food. They filled it in 24 hours,” Hill said. “My husband and I drove it back in before anything was open.
“We set up a distribution center in the fellowship center over the next three weeks. We served over 3,000 people. We would be down to nothing, and a truck would arrive from another church or locals would arrive with a carload of supplies. One local guy started a Go Fund Me account and would come by and ask what we needed and go get it.”
Offer housing or office space to volunteers who will work in storm recovery. Churches throughout the state are still hosting volunteers who have come from all over the country, Garrison said.
|It takes a village. We're all in this together.|
And the need for emotional support and encouragement is ongoing, she said. Some people are still unable to live in their homes or are unable to find work.
“I haven’t found a church yet that doesn’t want to help,” Garrison said. “If there’s a need they’re ready to help. They find a way to help us. If we get another storm, we’ll be the church like we were we this one.”
“We’ll do the same thing—prepare and help in any way we can. And, keep praying for stamina. I was at a meeting with Habitat for Humanity. They prayed for ‘stamina and determination for however long it takes to recover.’”
—Lilla Ross is a freelance editor based in Jacksonville.