Content is written by Rev. Mike Hunter
Recent events on the Texas Gulf Coast due to Hurricane Harvey reminds me of my time-serving churches affected by Katrina, Rita, and Ike almost a decade ago.
- Safety first. Don’t put your staff and members in harm’s way. Be safe and support your staff in finding safety until it is safe to function again.
- Have a communication plan for your congregation. Email tree, phone tree system, shepherding groups, if you have them, social media private group, and more. Now think through how you will follow up in the case of lost power.
- Assess immediate needs. Prayers and financial support through verified systems are the best initial response. After that, our past shelter’s immediate need was to feed people and we didn’t have power for prep and refrigeration. We needed bottled water and ready to eat foods: peanut butter, canned meats, fruit cups, baby food, etc. While service agencies will respond well, there is often a lag from the event until they arrive. Plan on enough food and water to go it alone for 48 hours. Coordinate with other churches and church members.
- Have things to help fill time constructively. When housing people in a time of crisis, plan for their social and emotional needs as well. Folks get tired of sitting. Engage them. Play games and interactive things with children and youth.
- Soft security. You will need to protect your campus while it is used by evacuees. You will need to guide them. You may even have to enforce your essential campus safety rules. Coordinate with law enforcement if you can. In my experience, after the initial storm, each shelter was assigned law enforcement support to help.
- Consider language and other diversity issues. We had to give instructions in dual language. We have to provide for handicap access is spaces not planned for that purpose. Be flexible, flexible, flexible.
- Check in and check out. As systems begin returning you will get phone calls looking for loved ones, often from frantic, displaced family members. Have a master list. Asked people to check out so that your records are accurate.
- Evaluate. After your church is cleared from serving evacuees, debrief and evaluate with your staff and members. What could we have done better? What did we learn? Make a list as events unfold because you will not remember in the heat of the crisis.
- Learn from each event. Plan for the possibility of a next event. We learned so much from each storm and our response improved each time.
Storm response may not be on the front of your mind the rest of the year, but if these latest storms have taught us anything it is the importance of being ready and the importance of response. Thanks for being a mission station in the storm of life.