Parish Emergency Preparedness Planning Guidelines

Introduction and Rationale: These general guidelines are shared as a supplement to the Diocese of New Ulm’s General Policy: “Parish Emergency Preparedness Planning”.

This policy has been adopted in light of the need for basic emergency response protocols at a parish level, especially as these apply to medical emergencies during the celebration of the Mass and other liturgies, the safety and wellbeing of youth, parishioners and guests whenever they may be gathered for religious education classes, meetings and prayer groups or with any parish event, festival or gathering. These guidelines also call attention to the general security and physical plant wellbeing of the churches and properties each parish is responsible to maintain, secure and protect. The guidelines do not address the safety plans, the evacuation and lockdown procedures, intruder awareness and related protocols required of the diocesan schools.

The rationale for this policy and the related principles and guidelines are obvious. Our churches and parish gathering spaces need to be safe and welcoming places for all who gather. Tragically, we are regularly reminded of the vulnerability of churches and places of worship with Catholic clergy as targets of active shooters; churches, synagogues and mosques that have been threatened, bombed or arson vandalized; and even the death of people assembled to pray and worship in churches and sacred spaces by assailants not known to the victims or their congregations.

 These guidelines are not meant to be all inclusive. Individual parishes may engage in on-going safety exercises, even daily security check-ins. At the same time, some oratory and parishes churches are open for prayer and adoration on a continuous basis. Hopefully, these materials will assist every parish and oratory in the diocese to be safe and welcoming places to all for worship and service to Our Lord.

Parish Emergency Preparedness Planning Process and Meeting Expectations:

It is recommended that a parish emergency preparedness committee be named. The committee should meet in conjunction with other parish administrative councils and committees to avoid the need for additional meeting times and /or duplication of effort with key parish staff or volunteers. After committee formation and the establishment of parish specific protocols and local emergency contact resources, it should only be necessary to meet annually (ideally in the early fall when new staff or volunteers have been assigned) in order to update committee membership, to insure that community emergency contacts are current and to plan any specific training (i.e. use of a defibrillator, emergency preparedness and behavioral guidelines for religious education teachers or new usher orientation) that might be suggested. It is also recommended the parish emergency planning group meet to debrief and process following a more than ordinary emergency, a major security or physical plant failure or to process information about some other community or parishioner-initiated security concern.

 Parish Emergency Preparedness Committee Membership:

The committee may simply include the pastor (or an area faith community business manager in his absence), a lead usher (or the parish resource who works with the ushers), the director of religious education (or a the lead teacher in the parish if religious education occurs at the parish without a DRE typically present), the building/maintenance resource (staff or volunteer) for the parish or anyone who typically locks or unlocks the church or any related parish properties and/or has some oversight for security. If the parish has a parish nurse or parish nurse volunteers, EMT’s or MD’s, they may be considered for membership if they are regularly present during weekend liturgies and/or available when a medically related incident might occur. Certainly, these people should be included with a resource/contact list that is maintained including the committee member contact information and the community emergency preparedness contacts as well as the gas, plumbing and electric service contacts.

(See Appendix A: Sample Parish Emergency Preparedness Committee Roster).

Community Emergency Preparedness Contacts:

The contact list a parish maintains for emergency preparedness should be current and as comprehensive as might be practically feasible. Typically, these  lists would include 911, the ambulance service or first responder contact information for the area, the county sheriff and local law enforcement contact information, the local hospital(s) or clinic phone numbers (to call when anyone is transporting family or others following a medical incident at the parish) and the local fire department. Similarly, the list should have the local resources to call with an electrical problem, a furnace malfunction, a possible gas or water leak and any related building and maintenance (i.e. snow removal or lawn care) contacts the committee may wish t include. It should be easily available, especially for ushers, religious education volunteers and anyone who locks or unlocks the church.

(See Appendix B: Sample Parish Emergency Preparedness Contact List)

Primary Parish Emergency Preparedness Procedures:

Primary emphasis of any parish emergency preparedness plan should relate to the immediate wellbeing of the parishioners, guests or person(s) in danger or crisis. Ushers and other persons typically present during Mass and those involved with religious education and other scheduled activities should be trained as to what might constitute an immediate concern and who most appropriately to call for a first response. The place(s) to gather in the event of a tornado or severe winds should be identified. Ushers should be knowledgeable about the location and use of a defibrillator, the first aid kit and any wheelchairs or walkers. (See Appendix C: Sample Emergency Response Information for Ushers and Greeters)

Special Circumstances Related to Parish Emergency Preparedness:

In rare situations there can be persons who have a history of creating difficulties in parish or religious education gatherings. If someone is specifically identified and/or named in a “no trespass” parish directive or a related court order; these names should be confidentially identified to the ushers or religious education staff who might encounter these individuals. Any disruptive person should be politely asked to leave. Preferably two people should speak with a person being asked to leave as should be the case with any suspicious person appearing to be an intruder. Whenever there is a doubt, call 911 or the local law enforcement resource familiar with the parish. Clarify the whereabouts of the intruder and try to have someone meet law enforcement as they arrive. Always let the law enforcement personnel engage an angry person or lead an effort to require someone to leave the church or parish property. Active shooter circumstances have not occurred in the Diocese of New Ulm. There are law enforcement resources willing to do training regarding these types of crisis and Catholic Charities staff can assist in arranging this training or to facilitate parish staff and volunteers in reviewing de-escalation, one-to-one intervention and emergency evacuation.

Routine and “Beyond Routine” Emergency Preparedness Practices:

Parish Emergency Preparedness Planning should always include routine and “beyond routine” maintenance schedules and checklists. Similarly, Catholic Mutual has drafted an emergency preparedness overview.

(See Appendix D, E and F: Sample "Routine" and “Beyond Routine” Maintenance Checklists and Catholic Mutual ”Cares”: An Emergency Preparedness Overview)

After an Emergency Event; Follow-up, Next Steps and Other Resources:

In the event of a crisis or parish-based tragedy, appropriate pastoral and professional follow-up should occur. The Diocese of New Ulm’s Crisis Response Protocols identify the role of the Bishop in response to a parish or community tragedy and for Catholic Charities staff with grief counseling or to simply help process moving beyond a tragedy. The Office of Communications should be engaged if public statements or media contact occurs. (See Appendix G: Diocese of New Ulm’s Crisis Response Protocols)

St John's Catholic Church
106 North 4th Street,

Darwin, MN 55324