Disaster preparedness: Is your church ready, just in case?

August 12, 2019
By Alan Wild
If a disaster were to hit your church or your community, how prepared would your congregation be to respond effectively?

Jim Morse, the Disaster Response Coordinator for the Kentucky Annual Conference, has a simple message: We need to do better.

Morse recently met with Kentucky Bishop Leonard Fairley, who directed Morse to come up with a two-pronged plan: to help our churches craft or improve their emergency plan, and to improve the disaster-response protocols of the Conference as a whole.

It’s more than just a disaster response, it’s a ministry, Morse emphasized.

“With planning, our response will be geared toward action and not reaction,” he said during a meeting with members of Conference Communications staff to discuss the new initiative. He and volunteer district coordinators work in conjunction with UMCOR, the United Methodist Committee on Relief.

Morse said that over the next few months, clergy and lay members will see a new emphasis on how to be prepared for calamity, including how churches can provide day-to-day ministry in the wake of a disaster, initially in person and later online.

This September, over three days he’ll be teaching an Early Response Training (ERT) class, which is aimed at “training the trainers,” Morse said. Once the trainers are certified, they will be equipped to work with churches and their leaders  on how to respond to disasters.

“There are all sorts of different disasters,” Morse said, listing floods, tornadoes, fires, earthquakes, and these days, increasingly, mass shootings – most recently, the horrific attacks in San Antonio, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio.

He said the need for better disaster planning is crucial, both at the Conference and the individual church level. As far as disaster preparedness, on a scale of 1-10, he rates the Conference a 3. But during a recent mobilization, people praised the response, which involved United Methodists, Baptists, Mennonites, Catholics, and others.

Morse rated the response between 6 and 8, thanks largely to Christian generosity and communities’ ability to rally during a disaster. But a postmortem determined that there was little true planning; it was all reactive.

With better work at the front end, the planning stage itself could be raised from 3 to more like 6-8 – and the response a 9-10, he said.

“Disaster ministry needs to be proactive, all the way through, from beginning to end,” Morse said.

One key planning component will be conducting more sessions of UMCOR’s Connecting Neighbors program across the Conference. It’s designed to do three things:
  • Prepare neighbors by training them to be in better position to handle disasters.
  • Make sure churches have effective emergency plans.
  • Help churches craft a post-disaster vision of effective witnessing and ministering.
Morse said churches can help share expenses by pairing up on training.

There will be a spot on the Conference website (www.kyumc.org) that will include the following, among other things:
  • A training calendar listing upcoming events. Morse said he hopes to conduct one or two Connecting Neighbors workshops in each of the Conference’s nine districts.  
  • A monthly blog that Morse and eventually guest authors will write focusing on various aspects of disaster ministry.
At least some of the training eventually will include the option to be done online, at participants’ convenience. Morse is preparing to do 20-minute videos, produced by Conference Communications, covering various aspects of the Connecting Neighbors program. The goal is to have the first few videos on the website by Oct. 1.

Spreading the word about the enhanced disaster ministry is relatively inexpensive, but there are some costs involved. Morse said each of the nearly 800 churches around the Conference will be asked to contribute $5 a month to help defray the costs of training.

It’s important to have bodies, as well, Morse said. Anyone who wants to help is welcome, he emphasized.  “I don’t care if you’re 20 years or 70 years old, there’s a value that you will bring to this ministry.”

Interested in being part of the Conference’s enhanced disaster ministry or in receiving training for your church on disaster preparedness? Watch the Conference website and NetConnect for more details coming soon.