by Mindi Godfrey
One of my very dear friends dubbed me “Queen of Plan B.” In most situations, especially when working with teens, I have a “Plan B.” I hate to be unprepared and caught off guard even though I’m quite capable of thinking on my feet. And perhaps because I, along with my family, survived the destruction of our own home by a tornado, I’ve always been a little hyper-aware of weather safety. And likely because I grew up around doing large-scale charity walk-a-thons, I learned the importance of thinking through the safety provisions needed for large groups. As a result, I pretty much always have a “Plan B”…just in case the worst happens.
Most churches have a “safety” plan for their youth and children’s ministries. But the majority of these plans revolve around keeping kids and youth safe from emotional, physical and sexual abuse. The plans focus on background checks, child check-in procedures, and building access by non-members. They often fall short of thinking through in detail how to respond in the case of a natural disaster. And in the case of youth ministry trips, road trip safety is generally prepared for, but little else is considered. Preparing a “Plan B” doesn’t have to be a daunting task. It just takes some thought, preparation, and communication. Here are some prompts to help you assemble an emergency plan for your group:
1. Create a plan. With your pastor, some key parents and volunteers imagine worst-case scenarios and then decide how best to be prepared for each scenario. Things to include in your plan:
- Weather emergencies—What kind of severe weather is your area prone to? Develop a plan to respond to each.
- Fire safety—Include information on any alarm system your facility has. Also have a predetermined meeting place outside where everyone will be directed to in the event of an evacuation.
- Cancellation policy—What kinds of weather forecasts or warnings will mandate an event cancellation? How far in advance will cancellations be determined?
- Communication strategy—How will you let everyone know about the emergency? How will you update your group on developments? Consider group texting and social media options. The goal of the communication strategy is for you to disseminate information that can be easily accessed. In the midst of an emergency, you won’t be able to respond quickly or easily to phone calls or texts individually.
2. Educate your team. Once you have a plan, make sure all your volunteers know the plan. And it doesn’t hurt to practice! Consider including a Safety and First Aid training from your local chapter of the American Red Cross.
3. Always do a headcount. Yes, it’s important to know how many people are attending. It is also critical in the event of an emergency to know your headcount to make sure everyone is safe and accounted for.
4. Have an emergency kit that includes flashlights and a first aid kit. Be sure to refresh batteries in the flashlights and check medicines for expiration dates. Good ways to remember to do this is either start of a semester or the daylight savings time changes.
5. Stay calm, act quickly. If an emergency happens, your students and volunteers will take their cues from you. Stay calm on the outside even if you are panicking on the inside.
Severe Weather Safety Plan
1. Subscribe to a weather service with your smart phone. You’ll get a text or app notification that gives you a heads up when dangerous weather is your vicinity.
2. Know where to go. Locate the tornado shelter space in your church or regular meeting facility making sure there is enough room for your entire group.
Earthquake Safety Plan
1. Move to a safe spot. Have everyone cover their heads, move away from anything that can fall and any glass. If possible, people should get under a desk or table.
2. Stay inside until the shaking stops. Remember that if it is a large earthquake there may be aftershocks. Most buildings in earthquake zones in the US are safer than being outdoors.
Fire Safety Plan
1. Know how to evacuate. You and your group know the primary entrances and exits to your meeting space, but do you know an alternate exit if the primary one is blocked?
2. Know where the fire extinguishers are and how to use them. Be sure to teach your ministry team their locations and proper use.
3. Know where the fire alarms are. If your church has fire alarms that need to be activated manually, know where they are and how to activate them. If they’re blocked in an emergency, simply evacuate and call 911 from your cell phone.
Travel Safety Tips
1. Inquire about your destination. When making your travel plan, determine what kind of neighborhood or area you’ll be staying in—how safe is it? What kind of severe weather might flare up while you’re there? Hint: Update your weather alerts area when you travel with your group.
2. Talk to your host organization or venue about their safety plan. Find out what their severe weather and fire safety plans are—let your team know. If you’re staying in a hotel, note where fire exits are on each floor and look for signs noting tornado or earthquake shelters.
You can find useful information in developing emergency plans from these websites:
American Red Cross
Federal Emergency Management Agency
National Weather Service
Hopefully, prayerfully, most youth workers will never need to use “Plan B.” But it’s better to be ready…just in case.
Mindi Godfrey is a veteran youth worker who’s served in ministry for more then 25 years. She’s served as a full-time youth pastor at a mega-church, a camp director, small group coach, missions trip leader, van driver, and of course, janitor. Mindi holds a Certificate in Spiritual Formation and is published in Campsight and Youthworker Journal. She volunteers with the youth at Forest Hills UMC in Brentwood, Tenn., and is working on her MTS degree at Vanderbilt University’s Divinity School.