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Accinctus - Higher Calling & Higher Risk – The Need For Faith-Based Organizations To Prepare

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Friday, 26 September 2014 00:00

Higher Calling & Higher Risk – The Need For Faith-Based Organizations To Prepare Featured

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To wrap up my awareness campaign for this years’ National Preparedness Month I want to address an area that is normally overlooked but is important – preparedness for churches, faith-based and non-profit organizations.  A few days ago I found a good discussion regarding the threat and general lack of planning for active shooter situations at churches.  The original post and link to the article by Melody Lauer (usually known as Lima) can be found here.  The focus of the discussion that I agree with 100% is that churches don’t spend much time preparing for threats, even though in the last few years there has been no shortage of examples of churches impacted by violence, protests, and natural disasters. 

Faith-based organizations have many challenges beyond what businesses must prepare for.  Churches are soft targets (meaning easy to attack) because of the general culture of being open to all.  I also consider churches as soft targets from natural threats since most churches are a combination of old, large, or mismatched buildings that may not be the most resilient to natural disasters.  The risk to churches increases dramatically based on additional services they provide such as daycare, schools, shelter services, etc.  Any services involving children or the elderly must be appropriately accounted for.  Churches may also have increased threats due to global, cultural, or political issues.  Lastly, churches and other faith-based organizations may have increased operational requirements during and after a disaster or incident; specifically if they are a designated shelter, food pantry, or emergency counseling center.

So why don’t churches take the time to prepare?  First, churches (like three quarters of American small and medium businesses) tend to believe these incidents won’t happen to them, which is especially amplified in smaller organizations.  Further, they usually have a small staff focused on administrative and ministerial positions and are not likely to have experience in safety, security, or preparedness.  Third, churches may not realize they have legal requirements they need to comply with.  Lastly, churches face the same budgetary and resource constraints that businesses face and mitigation and preparedness may not be considered a requirement.

Churches, faith-based organizations, and non-profits cannot claim in today’s environment “We didn’t know we were at risk!”  So what should they do, keeping in mind realistic constraints of resources and mission needs? 

 

1.  Conduct a risk assessment that includes natural, man-made, and technological threats and identify the impact and potential loss if those incidents happen.  Speak with local fire and police departments regarding their perspective on local threats and possible ways to prepare for them.

2.  Once the threats are identified – prioritize and address the greatest risks.  This should include preventative actions (mitigation) and developing plans to respond and recover from the highest risks.  Focus documentation on easy to use checklists rather than large response plans that will be forgotten on an office shelf.  The different services provided must also be addressed as they may likely require additional or unique procedures.  For example, a fire and evacuation for a church should address mass building evacuation (like a business), children’s accountability and reunification with parents (like daycares and schools), and operation recovery (like a business). 

3.  Train church staff (including volunteers) on these emergency procedures and PRACTICE!  The best plan is useless if no one knows what to do.  There is no excuse why a church doesn't conduct fire drills or exercises for other threats at least once a year. 

I highly recommend a church work with a preparedness, business continuity, security, or life safety expert to provide an outside perspective, even if just for a program review or basic training.  Churches tend to rely on elders, church councils, and ministers for decision making and as previously mentioned, these people are not likely to have training or experience in preparedness.  Hearing that outside perspective may identify areas for improvement that would otherwise be overlooked (not to mention save lives). 

I’d like to finish with a brief story from my own experience.  During a church VBS celebration my children were attending, a small boy about 5 burned his hand on the metal tools by the fire they were using to roast marshmallows.  Surprisingly no one knew what to do about the burn so with the parents I took the boy into the kitchen to cool the burn and asked for the church medical kit.  Since no one knew if the church had a med kit or where it was, I sent my son out to our car to retrieve our emergency kit and soon the little boy was patched up with burn salve, a gauze wrap, and a glow stick (kids always find those in my bag somehow).  I don’t doubt the church had a med kit, but like preparedness itself – if only one or two people know what to do when a disaster (or little incident) happens it will inevitably be when they are gone and the result is the same as if you didn’t prepare at all.

Churches are at risk as much and in some ways or more than businesses and schools and by not preparing actually increase the impact from emergencies and disasters.  Please, ask your church elders, pastor, priest, rabbi or other leaders if the church is prepared for natural and man-made disasters.  If not, I’d be happy to speak with them about what positive actions they can take to be better prepared. 

As always: Be Aware – Be Prepared – Be Safe.

 


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