If current projections hold true, Hurricane Harvey will be the strongest hurricane to strike the United States since Katrina, Rita, and Wilma hit in 2005.
A decade ago, maybe your church volunteered, planned a short-term mission trip, gave money, or helped rebuild Gulf Coast communities beaten down by one of America’s most deadly and destructive disaster seasons.
Harvey, which hit the Texas coast as a Category 4 hurricane, offers Christians a chance to be even more helpful—to show God’s grace and mercy to a disaster-filled world. But it means we have to be willing to learn from experiences like Katrina.
I’ve learned a lot myself, both personally and professionally. Katrina walloped my community six days after I moved to South Mississippi. Within weeks, I was on the ground researching how faith helps peoples’ resilience and how the church can best respond. Today, I run the Humanitarian Disaster Institute at Wheaton College, the nation’s first social science research center devoted to the study of faith and disasters.
For churches in the path of Hurricane Harvey, there are still some “just-in-time” preparedness strategies you can implement before the storm makes landfall. For Christians far away, there’s a lot more you can do than wait and watch Twitter like it’s an unfolding disaster movie.
Below are some of the most important research-based ways your church can prepare and care, as well as spiritual survival tips for locals and responders alike.
What Churches in Harvey’s Crosshairs Should Do Right Now
You may have never thought about your church’s role in preparing for a disaster in your own community. Even if you have, you still may not know how to prepare as you watch this unexpected hurricane rapidly approaching. Taking these small actions now can go a long way toward preventing harm and saving lives. Following these tips will better position your congregation to be able to help each other and others in your community after the storm passes.
1) Utilize Crisis Communication Strategies
Disasters often disrupt the ways we communicate. Power goes out and cell phone towers go down, making most modern forms of staying in touch with one another difficult. Thus, communicating during a disaster can be tough.
First things first: If you have time, grab the most up-to-date congregation contact list you have. If you don’t have a contact list, you might send an invitation to your fellow church members to share via a Google Docs survey (or another service your congregation already uses) where they can fill in this information. If you go this route, you can also ask them if they plan to evacuate, where they’re going, and for alternative contact information.
If you have time prior to the disaster, reach out to your congregation using your normal and most common means of communication to let them know how they might be able to stay in touch with the church, leadership, and each other.
Common crisis communication strategies include: using a call-down procedure (e.g., activate “prayer chain”), text messaging, text broadcasting, social media notifications, alternate call-in number (e.g., instruct members to call in to a “sister” church in another region who is willing to take messages), to name a few.
Don’t just let your congregation know how you’ll be communicating, but also let them know how to use the ways you’ll be communicating.