Events like the civil unrest across the world following the death of George Floyd, in Minneapolis Minnesota in 2020 showed that when the unexpected strikes, emergency operations plans (EOP) need to be ready to prepare church staff and volunteers in how to respond to those emergency situations. With mental illness rising in America, workplace violence becoming more prevalent, and cyber criminals stealing data, non-profits need to be asking — are we ready, even for what we can’t yet imagine happening?
If you have put off emergency operations planning, then you are not alone. Your peers in churches across the country are asking themselves the same thing; how do we make planning a priority? The reality is emergency operations planning is both hard work and time consuming, but if a disaster were to strike in your ministry today, how would you recover and maintain your organizational staff and volunteers functions to fulfill your church mission?
An initial question is: Do you have a plan in place, has it been communicated, and importantly, are volunteers trained and aware of what’s expected of them? If the answer is no, maybe it’s time to put emergency preparedness on the top of your to do list!
When we think of emergencies such as deadly force and mass shootings. It’s easy to say it will never happen here. In 2017, at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs Texas, an armed gunman walked into a Sunday service killing 26 people including the pastor’s 14-year-old daughter. I’ve had the privilege to get to know the pastor, Frank Pomeroy and hear firsthand how hard it was for his community to recover. At the time of the tragic incident, he was not at the church, he was at a pastoral conference in Oklahoma.
The night before the tragic event, someone asked him over dinner if he was concerned with the safety at his church. His reply was not much different than what thousands of other church leaders across the country would have said. “We’re a small church in Texas, nothing will ever happen here!”. Things have since changed, and Frank and his community are now very well prepared for emergency events.
Here is a four-point plan to help you on your emergency preparedness journey.
- Make a commitment to plan
The Emergency Operations Plan (EOP) is something that all organizations should have in place to ensure volunteers, clients, staff, and visitors are safe. A way to get started is to pull together your safety committee. If you don’t have a safety committee, start by getting a small group of people together within your organization that have an interest in keeping people safe. Work towards having the following plans in place:
Emergency Operations Plan: To ensure that in an emergency, human disasters, natural disasters and technological hazards, people know what to do and how to keep safe. Consider this your in-the-moment plan!
Business Continuity Plan: Ensures that time-sensitive and critical organization functions can be resumed quickly after an outage or failure. Consider this your post-event recovery plan!
- Planning for people risks
There is that saying, “failing to plan is planning to fail”. When you plan for people risks it’s important to think through all the hazards and risks that your organization could face. Then create simple procedures on how you want staff and volunteers to respond. Here’s a few things to consider:
- Do people know how to evacuate your buildings and where to go in the event of a crisis during business hours?
- Do you have a plan to assess how many people may remain in the building after a hazardous event?
- Do staff and volunteers know where to get post-event status updates?
- Do staff and volunteers have contingency plans for adjusted work hours or work sites?
- Who is certified in first aid and CPR?
- Does everyone have access to an Emergency Supply Kit?
- Plan how you will communicate the emergency
Your EOP should explain how the organization will communicate to various audiences. Your message will need to be carefully scripted and meet the needs of each group.
How will you communicate with:
- Leadership and board of directors
- Employees and their families
- Volunteers and their families
- Survivors impacted by the incident
- Organizational visitors
- News Media
- Community Partners
- Regulators and other government authorities
- Vendors, sub-contractors and suppliers.
- Business continuity planning (BCP)
While the EOP will focus on how to prepare and what to do during a crisis, continuity planning will ensure that your systems and infrastructure are in place that can either withstand a crisis or business operations can be restarted with minimal loss of data and operational integrity.
Without having a plan in place, organizations risk losing part or all of their volunteer and staff support because they are unaware of when and how they can return to work, or they believe that their workplace is no longer safe for them. Both of these situations can spell trouble in maintaining operations.
Here’s a basic 4-step process in building a continuity plan:
- Identify and assess your possible risk.
- Understand the mission of your organization and the key components that are vital to your success.
- Create a Business Continuity Plan that includes your mitigation, preparedness, reality check, response, and recovery.
- Train and test to your plan, maintain it going forward.
Simon Osamoh is a British American and founder of Kingswood Security Consulting. He spent 14 years as a Detective in England working serious and organized crime. He moved to the United States to Head Counter Terrorism at Mall of America, Minnesota. Simon is a Christian and has spent over a decade helping non-profits stay safe and secure. He is the author of three books, Securing Church Operations, Church Safety Responding to Suspicious Behavior and 10 Powerful Strategies for Conflict De-escalation. He is the host of the Church Security Made Simple Podcast and a member of the Worship Facility Editorial Advisory Board.