Scramble-free disaster preparedness

Group 236

by Karen Krueger

When you’re anxious enough to check alerts on your device, TV or radio, it’s NOT the best time to scramble for the church directory or insurance policy.

For us as individuals, and for congregations both as functioning entities and potential community support centers, it is good stewardship to spend some time developing disaster preparedness plans.


1409disaster72hourOn the individual level, the ELCA Gulf Coast Synod helps members become “72 Hour Lutherans.” A 72 Hour Lutheran is “a person who happens to be Lutheran and have enough supplies in their home to meet their household’s basic needs for 72 hours.” Why 72? In a serious emergency, services are impacted – including governmental, state and private entities – so a basic rule of thumb is for people to be able to take care of each other for roughly three days before help arrives. “Being prepared is crucial,” urges the Gulf Coast Synod based upon experience. “Being prepared to take care of your own family allows you to then reach out and help others.”

In the ELCA Texas-Louisiana Gulf Coast Synod, which sends out a seasonal Hurricane Warning reminder to congregations, they ask members to “take a moment and make this a priority”:

  • Determine escape routes;
  • Make an evacuation plan for all pets;
  • Share one out-of-state emergency contact for all of your family and friends;
  • Call your church and ensure your information is correct;
  • Know the vulnerability of your home and the safest areas within it; and
  • Use a checklist to collect supplies.

Congregational plans are included in ELCA Virginia Synod recommendations.

  • Level 1 – Care for your Church

Back-up important data; photograph or video property; review insurance coverage; develop a plan for continuity of operation, including evacuation and relocation of worship and other services if necessary.

  • Level 2 – Care for your People

Determine membership needs; provide resources for members to prepare their homes, families and selves for a disaster; create a database of members, identifying special needs as well as skills that can be brought to bear in case of disaster; create a plan for rapidly communicating accurate information (like a phone tree) to members in case of disaster.

  • Level 3 – Offer Help to your Community

Create a record of physical assets including facilities that the congregation can offer in response to a disaster.

1409disasterguideBishop Richard Graham of the ELCA Metro D.C. Synod adds practical points.

  • Important congregational records are to be preserve in paper copies and protected from fire and water. A simple safe is enough in most cases.
  • Pastors should have paper copies of church directories with them which they can use in the event that they cannot access electronic materials.

Extensive resources exist to support disaster preparedness. The ELCA Disaster Response has available a free, downloadable, “Congregational Disaster Preparedness Guidebook” that answers many questions and suggests paths to being ready. Find at

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) posts many preparedness resources, such as a child-friendly, fill-in-the-blank phone contact list in English and Spanish to basic kit recommendations in the brochure, “Prepare for Emergencies Now: Information to Get Ready.” See

With a congregational bend, the list at also includes some great additional downloads, like “How to Replace Lost Documents” and worship ideas.


Before an alert crosses your path, take a deep breath and a sip of herbal tea, and give some thought to congregational disaster preparedness. Our colleagues in synods across the ELCA affirm it is worthwhile.