Housing Disaster Victims

A church’s greatest opportunity to serve its community may come in the aftermath of a natural disaster when the church steps forward to provide food, shelter, and spiritual comfort. Although relief efforts may fit your ministry’s biblical mission, church leaders should evaluate several factors to help protect the church and the people they intend to help. Consider the following:

  • Determine your facility’s capacity limit, as determined by fire codes and local ordinances.
  • Limit the areas of your facility to which disaster victims will have access. Consider designating an outdoor smoking area.
  • Enlist members of your congregation to minister to your guests and monitor your building on a 24/7 basis.
  • Record the names of everyone you house. Ask guests for contact information, as well as the names of relatives to reach in an emergency.
  • Establish procedures for addressing and reporting unlawful activi­ties.
  • Determine how you will handle weapons and valu­ables that disaster victims bring to your shelter. You can place weapons and valuables in a safe or tightly secured room, but also weigh the risks inherent to storing such items.
  • Secure and/or monitor entrances at all times. Make sure that interior doors are in good repair and are unlocked in areas where disaster victims have access.
  • Determine how you will provide basic living necessities like food, showers, blankets, and personal hygiene products.
  • Establish a plan for dealing with higher volumes of trash, as well as more frequent maintenance and janitorial needs.
  • Encourage parents to be responsible for the safety of their children.
  • Prepare areas for children by installing safety devices on electrical outlets and providing safe, age-appropriate toys.
  • Ensure that volunteers are trained to identify potential sex offenders and victims of abuse. Contact local law enforcement immediately if you learn that a registered sex offender is housed in your facility or if an allegation of abuse arises.
  • Allow only screened individuals from your ministry to oversee activities involving children. This is especially important in settings where children are separated from their parents.

Your ministry should build a response plan before an impending disaster. Doing so will help your church provide a safe and secure shelter for disaster victims and at the same time, protect your church and those who worship with you.