The American Red Cross defines a disaster as: "An emergency that causes injury or loss of life and property damage, and a disruption in which survivors cannot manage without spiritual, monetary, or physical assistance."

Disaster preparedness and response must be a vital part of our church mission. We are called to love one another. One of the ways we can show the love and act as the hands, feet and face of Jesus is through the efforts we make in the community and around the world.

The church is not just four walls and a roof. Some people may never attend church normally but, in a disaster or time of loss, they immediately turn to the church for help. In a disaster situation the church is not only a spiritual center, but can also a resource hub of the community.

Levels of Disasters

There are four levels used to describe the severity of disasters:

Level I: A small local disaster usually affecting one to thirty households, which is within the capabilities of local community resources to handle.

· Relief: Initially our church may need some help from the district or conference. Volunteers from within the community and nearby churches will assist with crisis counseling, cleanup and emergency repairs. The bishop may request the churches within the conference take a special offering. One or two ERT/Care teams may be brought in to work alongside local volunteers.

· Recovery: Just a few people could perform all of the management functions-i.e. provide ministry of caring, manage cases, and coordinate volunteer management, donations, and networking of resources.

Level II: a medium-sized disaster usually affecting 40 to 150 households, which is beyond the capabilities of local community resources to handle.

· Relief: Local churches must have assistance. The bishop should solicit an offering as soon as possible. A segment of the Conference Disaster Response Center is mobilized for assessment and management. Site management of volunteers must be in place as soon as possible for crisis counseling, cleanup and emergency repairs.

· Recovery: An interfaith or United Methodist recovery team is necessary, with a paid director or a skilled, long-term volunteer whose expenses are reimbursed. The team will administer the operation, assisted by volunteers and a paid case manager.

Level III: These are large disasters in terms of severity or geography which cause significant damage and destruction and will usually receive a presidential declaration. A disaster this size within the conference area requires full mobilization of the Conference Disaster Response Center.

· Relief: Resources from the conference and UMCOR are essential. The Disaster Response Center will perform full operational functions. A conference-wide appeal must be made for funds, appropriate in-kind donations and volunteers. UMCOR money will also be needed, as will be Early Response Teams and Information & Referral (I&R) workers.

· Recovery: Paid staff for case management within community-based recovery organizations, and conference-wide coordination of volunteers is necessary. Numerous teams of short-term volunteers for repair and rebuilding are important and will be needed for a year or more.

Level IV: A catastrophic disaster is defined by Public Law 93-288 as: "An event resulting in a large number of deaths and injuries; extensive damage or destruction of facilities that place an overwhelming demand on state and local response resources and mechanisms; a severe impact on national security facilities and infrastructures that sustain them; a severe long-term effect on general economic activity and severe effects on state, local and private sector initiatives to begin and sustain initial response activities."

· Relief: The entire conference response organization must be mobilized. A number of people in conference leadership positions will probably be victims themselves. UMCOR mentors may be necessary to fill slots of those in conference disaster leadership who are unable to function. A conference-wide appeal must be made for funds, appropriate in-kind donations, Early Response Teams (ERTs) and Care teams. UMCOR money will also be needed, as will be Information & Referral (I&R) workers. Perhaps a denomination-wide special appeal will be made.

· Recovery: as in Level III, hired staff for leadership positions is needed rather than utilizing long-term volunteers. Again, case managers and workers will be necessary. Numerous teams of short-term volunteers are required over a period of several years.


To ensure timeliness, provide the maximum available resources, avoid redundancy and provide an effective and appropriate response, the church must be ready, at all levels, when disaster strikes. This means planning and preparation before disaster strikes.

Types of Responses

The visible presence of the church is essential in any type of disaster, regardless of the extent of damage. The conference, districts, and local churches with their many volunteer groups are vital links to a huge network of caring responders from faith based organizations. Together they will provide to people in need three types of response:

The spiritual response addresses the issue of seeing how God's presence is available in the midst of suffering, despair and grief. The primary task is to be present in the midst of suffering and spiritual crisis, acting as an agent of reconciliation with spiritual support and encouragement. In large disasters the bishop may be there providing an "awesome presence." Local pastors should wear clerical collars to provide a visible example of the presence of the church. Teams of people trained in giving spiritual and emotional care (Care Teams), Stephens ministers and chaplains are available, and UMCOR is willing to train more people at our church level. Just being there allows the Holy Spirit to work through you.

The emotional response can address the problems of loneliness, shock, disbelief, delayed grief, and a multitude of related emotions that accompany those disasters that affect the lives of people. Pastors, Stephen ministers, and other lay leaders who have received UMCOR training can be present to help meet the needs of people in such trying times.

The physical response will be the most visible, needed to help provide safety, security and sanitation. Trained individuals and teams are needed, such as Emergency Response Teams, Spiritual & Emotional Care teams, volunteer management, plus teams to man shelters and mass feeding locations. All help meet physical needs and thus alleviates some of the spiritual and emotional anxiety. No matter how inadequate you may feel your skills and talents are in responding to people in need, never underestimate the power of presence. The physical response must address itself to facilities, finances and an unending list of unique needs that may or may not be immediately recognized, but your mere presence is immediately seen.

Situations and Types of Hazards

Our disaster plan needs to cover all hazards to address the wide range of human-caused and natural disasters, including incidents related to public violence, terrorism, chemical explosions, transportation accidents, hazardous waste spills, fires, winter storms, floods, earthquakes, and severe thunderstorms. Initially, it may seem that such a wide range of potential disasters makes prior planning an impossible task. However, most disasters have similar preparatory and post hazard responses. Identifying our actions and completing the plan will considerably improve our congregation's response to any disaster. Positive preplanning can help save our church assets. However, in the execution of the plan, we must remember that the people of our congregations and the residents of the community are far more important than facilities. Our plan will cover both church assets and the safety of the people of the church.

Planning Assumptions About Catastrophic Disasters

1. Utility services (gas, electricity, and water) may be unavailable for extended periods.  Keep drinking water on hand for your family.

2. Telephone service, including cell phones, may be interrupted.

3. Cable television service may be disrupted. Keep a battery operated radio to listen to emergency bulletins.

4. Police, fire, paramedics, and 911 response will be overrun the first 3 to 5 days after a major disaster. Do not expect their help initially.  Be prepared to perform light-duty rescue, fire suppression and first aid with your neighbors.

5. Hospitals, clinics and other medical service providers will be overwhelmed.  Maintain your own first aid kits and be prepared to perform first aid yourselves.

6. There will be serious problems with transportation.  Road closures will occur and when stores and other supplies run out, they will not be replaced for some time.

7. Many people will abandon their jobs to be with their families, further disrupting normal services.

8. People will largely be "on their own" in the initial days following a major disaster,

9. Members of the congregation may be limited to working only with the resources within their homes and their immediate neighborhoods.


With this in mind the First United Methodist Church of Santa Rosa has organized this plan as a structure to facilitate the ability to be in ministry to persons in need as a result of a disaster.