Leadership by the pastors is extremely important. For many, a pastor’s appearance at the disaster site symbolizes the “awesome presence” of Christ and the commitment of His church to relieve the suffering. Don’t dismiss or minimize the values of symbols to people who are hurting. The pastor’s role as a symbol of a caring church cannot be filled by anyone else! The conference recommends the wearing of the clerical collar while in a disaster area which not only symbolizes your role but also serves as a form of identification to emergency service workers and others who see you.
Congregants receiving a visit in aid stations and hospitals are grateful that their pain was important enough for the pastor to set aside routine business. A disaster is a tragedy and the church cannot conduct “business as usual” in the aftermath.
Stage 1: Planning and Preparation – Before Disaster Strikes
1. Appoint, or have the Leadership Committee select, a Disaster Response Coordinator. Support formation of a Disaster Response Committee to oversee the church Disaster Preparation and Response Plan. Members of this committee should include: the Disaster Response Coordinator, the UMVIM Coordinator, the Operations Manager, a fiscal officer, a communicator and a trustee representative. Be sure that you are represented on the committee and/or informed about its work.
2. Advocate and support other organizations or groups preparing to take part in disaster response in addition to their normal functions. Stephens Ministers, Trustees, Finance, United Methodist Women and others will all play a significant role in the coordinated response to a disaster. A combined, coordinated effort may be essential to surviving a disaster.
3. Inform whoever acts on your behalf when you are out of the office that he or she has the responsibility to implement the disaster response plan when disaster strikes (this authority should also be given to your Disaster Response Coordinator).
4. Provide appropriate assistance to the Disaster Response Coordinator in establishing the Church’s Disaster Response work center. This may require that a room or an office, telephones and other office equipment be reassigned to the Response Center function when the plan is implemented.
Stage 2: Warning – Disaster is Imminent
1. Implement the Disaster Preparedness and Response Plan.
2. Provide whatever staff assistance is available to the Disaster Response Coordinator in setting up the Disaster Response work center.
3. See that your families and those of the staff take whatever actions are appropriate to prepare for the event.
Stage 3: Emergency Response – Immediately After Disaster Strikes
1. Assess damage to your household and check the status of your family. If you are a victim, do not rely solely on your own judgment, listen to others. If you cannot perform your duties, notify your office, the District Superintendant and get help.
2. If away from the church, let the office know where you are and have them notify the Disaster Response Coordinator.
3. Ensure that the District and Conference are notified of the event and its impact; let them know the disaster plan has been implemented.
Stage 4: Relief
1. As soon as possible make a site visit to of both campuses to survey the extent of damage to the facilities and confer with Disaster Response Coordinator and the staff regarding needs.
2. If it becomes clear that you may be overwhelmed by duties of family, church and community as relief and recovery takes place, look among the ranks of the retired pastors for assistance. If a suitable person isn’t available or appropriate, notify the District Superintendant and request assistance.
3. See that whoever on the staff carries the disaster response liaison portfolio is relieved of as many other routine duties as possible for as long as is appropriate.
4. Provide additional temporary support staff as needed (volunteers).
5. Request emergency funding from the conference if on-hand resources are perceived to be insufficient to meet immediate needs for relief. As soon as possible, make a financial appeal to the congregation and consider requesting the bishop make a conference-wide financial appeal. If you wait, donors will assume that the church is not suffering financially and will donate to other disaster agencies who will be asking for their money.
Remember that the church office cannot act as if it were “business as usual” if the disaster is large or catastrophic. A whole new way of doing business will be required.
Stage 5: Long Term Recovery
1. Have all involved leaders meet periodically for reports and evaluations.
2. Have the church office publish timely updates in the recovery phase.
3. Publicly acknowledge workers and work done.
4. Plan for a service of praise and memorial a year from the date of the disaster.