Emergency officials help places of worship prepare for the worst

LINCOLN, Neb. (KLKN) – September is Emergency Preparedness Month, and agencies across the nation want to make sure there is a safety plan no matter where you go, even to worship.

You never know when disaster will strike, so the best thing is to have plans in place for the worst.

The overall message from national emergency management teams was to start planning now, no matter the size of your congregation.

“The numbers of people don’t matter, from the tiniest of hamlet to the largest of metropolis here in America,” said Robert Christensen, preparedness and response chief at the Department of Homeland Security. “Lives matter, our emergency preparedness matters, and it really does, again, start with partnerships.”

Safety officials suggest building bridges with local first responders by inviting them to speak during worship, or having them help make plans for disasters.

Sometimes, these are not the easiest conversations to have.

“We did an active shooter preparedness workshop in July and had over 100 people attend,” said Chelsea Sawyer, Georgia’s emergency management coordinator.

Having communication between different religious groups will also help in a time of disaster, to make sure nobody is left out.

“Only when our faith-based organizations are safe can they help meet the needs of your community,” Sawyer said. “If they don’t feel safe, if they don’t feel like they can respond to an emergency event, if they don’t feel that they are safe within their own house of worship, they are not going to be able to respond in your community. Figuring out what they need to know, what your houses of worship need and want to know more about is going to make all the difference.”

There are resources for places of worship. One is through the Department of Health and Human Services; the other is through the Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Agency.

Christensen said you can find emergency plan templates and checklists to see how secure your building is.

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