In safeguarding our sacred spaces, the cornerstone isn’t just a robust emergency operations plan—it’s knowing the crucial elements that transform it from basic to comprehensive. The question I encounter most is not if we need a plan, but rather, what should it include? As John 16:33 reminds us, “In this world, you will have trouble.” Scripture doesn’t shy away from the reality of stress and unpredictability. It’s a stark acknowledgment that despite our best efforts, not everything unfolds as intended.
Navigating through a crisis requires not just faith, but foresight and preparation. I will provide 14 essential ingredients that I believe are critical to passing the test of comprehensiveness. These components are designed to fortify your emergency operations plan, equipping your congregation with the resilience to manage crises with grace and efficiency.
Essentials of an Emergency Operations Plan
Crafting an emergency operations plan begins with a comprehensive list of potential crises. We categorize these into natural disasters like earthquakes and floods, human-caused incidents including terrorism and shootings, and technological hazards such as data breaches or equipment failures. Not to be overlooked are other unpredictable events like civil unrest or pandemics. The goal is clear, identify every possible emergency and meticulously prepare your response. This streamlined approach ensures your house of worship is prepared to face any disaster with resilience and a clear action plan.
Chain of Command in Crisis Management
Effective emergency management necessitates a clear chain of command, often referred to as the incident commander. From my tenure as the head of counterterrorism at Mall of America in Minnesota, I learned that crises tend to arise in the absence of primary leadership, requiring a designated second-in-command to step up. It’s vital to establish and document who will take charge during an emergency since, because, as Murphy’s Law would have it, the expected leader may not be on-site when needed most.
Establishing Communication Protocols
Determining how to communicate during an emergency is a critical component of your plan. Whether it’s through a PA system, a mass notification app, or other means, ensure you have reliable methods to disseminate information to both the congregation and external parties. Document these communication methods clearly to facilitate swift and effective messaging when every second counts.
Creating a Crisis Response Team
Assemble a dedicated crisis response team by identifying and listing key individuals expected to lead in times of emergency. Approach these selected members, provide them with targeted training to handle crises effectively, and prepare them to step into leadership roles to execute your plan when challenges arise.
Updating First Aid Readiness
In today’s reality, the scope of first aid has expanded beyond Band-aids and Tylenol. Now, it includes Narcan, tourniquets, and wound-packing supplies for severe injuries as results of mass shootings. Identify and document the individuals in your church who are trained to handle such medical emergencies, along with their locations and contact information, to ensure a rapid and efficient response.
Ensure the locations of Automated External Defibrillators (AEDs) in your church are well-known to staff and volunteers. Document their placement prominently on floor plans and provide training to staff on how to use these lifesaving devices effectively in emergency situations.
The long-standing guidance to “run, hide, fight” in active shooter situations contrasts with emergencies like severe weather, where advance warning is possible. Identify and document shelter locations for tornadoes and hurricanes within your church. Include these areas in your emergency plan along with floor maps providing clear routes for congregation members to reach safety.
Planning for Evacuation
Identifying and clearly marking evacuation areas is crucial for ensuring a safe and orderly exit during emergencies. Consider the most effective routes for people to leave the building and designate specific evacuation points. Enhance this process by creating and displaying wall maps with “You Are Here” indicators to guide people swiftly out of the building.
Planning for Relocation and Reunification
In the event of an evacuation, especially concerning children in your preschool or Christian academy, determining a safe reunification site is essential. Establish this location in advance, ideally in collaboration with nearby churches or schools willing to temporarily house and safeguard the children. Secure and document agreements well before any crisis to ensure a smooth and coordinated response.
Handling Media During Crises
In the fast-paced world of press and social media, having a documented plan for media interaction during a crisis is vital. Designate who is authorized to speak with the media and ensure this is clearly communicated within your team. Additionally, establish a specific media area where representatives can be directed upon arrival, maintaining order and control over information dissemination.
Emergency Contact Information
A critical but often neglected aspect of emergency preparedness is maintaining a list of essential phone numbers and account details. This includes contacts for utilities like electricity and gas, complete with the church’s account numbers and specific provider contacts. Integrating these key details into your emergency plan ensures quick access to vital information during a crisis.
Locating Utility Shut-Offs
Beyond emergency contacts, it’s crucial to know the exact locations of utility shut offs, such as gas and electricity, within your building. In the absence of your facilities manager or lead, clear guidance is necessary. Ensure your emergency plan includes a detailed map showing these shut-off points, along with instructions on how to safely turn them off.
Effective Communication of Plan Updates
Developing an emergency plan is just the first step; the real challenge lies in ensuring its accessibility and understanding among your staff and volunteers. It’s insufficient to simply store the plan on a shared drive. Consider how you’ll train and inform everyone about updates. Crucially, add a change log to your plan, documenting the history of amendments to avoid redundancy and ensure everyone is aware of the latest version. This log should include dates of distribution, thereby counteracting any claims of unawareness.
Your Roadmap to a Resilient Emergency Plan
With this framework, you’ve laid the groundwork for a robust and comprehensive emergency management plan. By adhering to these steps, you’re well on your way to fostering a safer, more prepared environment. This plan isn’t just a document; it’s a proactive approach to ensuring the safety and resilience of your community.
Simon Osamoh serves as the editor of Security Connections and is nationally recognized for his work in safeguarding houses of worship. He began his career in England, spending 14 years as a detective specializing in serious and organized crime before leading Counter Terrorism at the Mall of America in Minnesota. Simon founded Kingswood Security Consulting and the Worship Security Academy, aimed at providing security solutions to houses of worship. He is the author of two bestselling books and the host of the Worship Security Academy podcast. For submissions or topic ideas, reach out to Simon at email@example.com