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Prepare to become an emergency shelter

If your house of worship isn’t already prepared to serve as a shelter in the event of severe weather, now is the time to take action.

According to Church Mutual’s new “Risk Radar Report — Severe Weather,” 82% of Americans feel houses of worship, schools, camps and nonprofit organizations should prepare in advance for severe weather events, as members and patrons are likely to seek shelter from severe weather there.

More than four in five Americans (84%) said they would be impacted if one of these organizations was unable to provide services due to severe weather’s effect on the facility. Survey respondents reported they would have nowhere else to go, and if their organization was unable to provide services, it would be devastating for them on both a financial and emotional level.

Additionally, respondents said, not being able to seek shelter at these locations would cause them to travel farther from their homes to find resources—or they would consider living in their vehicles.

These results clearly indicate that people want their house of worship to take steps so it can become a shelter in emergencies. So, how do you do that?

  1. First, contact the American Red Cross. You could also talk to a similar local organization to learn what steps you need to take to become an emergency shelter. Such an organization has the experience to help you avoid common pitfalls and acquire the necessary insurance. Make sure to your insurance broker or agent to ensure that your organization has appropriate insurance coverage in place to serve as an emergency shelter.

  2. Create an emergency supply kit. If your members come to you for services in severe weather, you need to have the right items on hand to provide relief. Your kit should include:

    • A three-day supply of safe drinking water, with at least one gallon for each person each day.

    • A roster with the names, addresses and telephone numbers of everyone using the facility.

    • A first-aid kit.

    • At least a three-day supply of food that does not require refrigeration.

    • Extra clothing.

    • Personal supplies, such as toothbrushes, deodorant, tissues and toilet paper.

    • A wrench or pliers to turn off utilities if necessary.

    • A flashlight.

    • A battery-powered radio and a NOAA Weather Radio with toner alert.

    • Regular household bleach and a medicine dropper for water decontamination.

  1. Plan for adequate security. People need safety not only from the weather, but also from each other. Create an emergency plan that includes steps for protecting your guests from theft, sexual assault and other problems.

  2. Consider how you will handle housekeeping. Even just a few guests for a few days can create a significant mess. You will likely need more help than what your custodial staff can offer. You might need to put together a roster of volunteers who could help in such a situation.

Church Mutual’s 10 Essentials of Severe Weather Preparedness can give you a good start on making sure you can serve your members, if needed.

For more resources on preparing your house of worship for severe weather, visit