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Presbyterian Disaster Assistance promotes hurricane preparedness

Churches encouraged to take proactive steps to mitigate storm damage

by Darla Carter | Presbyterian News Service

This infographic shows the probability and numbers of named storms predicted for the 2021 Atlantic hurricane season. (Photo courtesy of NOAA)

LOUISVILLE — With a busy Atlantic hurricane season predicted and tragedies already being reported in the South, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance is encouraging churches to make disaster preparedness plans.

The Atlantic hurricane season runs from June through November, and it already has taken a deadly toll, with Tropical Storm Claudette having claimed at least 14 lives in recent days, according to news reports.

Given that such storms also can bring significant damage to church facilities, it’s wise for congregations to take proactive steps, said the Rev. James Kirk, PDA Associate for U.S. Disaster Response.

“There certainly is a significant amount of truth in the adage ‘an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,’ because by doing adequate preparation, you can mitigate the damage,” Kirk said.

A satellite-captured image of Hurricane Laura as the storm approached the Gulf Coast last August. (Photo courtesy of NOAA)

Last year’s Atlantic hurricane season was the busiest on record and led to numerous virtual deployments by PDA, which hopes to do some in-person deployments this year now that National Response Team members have been fully vaccinated. Based on a post-season analysis, there were 14 hurricanes and seven major hurricanes during the 2020 hurricane season, with 11 named storms hitting the U.S. coastline, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Back in May, NOAA predicted that 2021 would usher in another above-normal Atlantic hurricane season. The forecasters have predicted there will be 13 to 20 named storms (winds of 39 mph or higher), including six to 10 hurricanes (winds of 74 mph or higher). In terms of major hurricanes (winds of 111 mph or higher), three to five are expected.

To prepare for such potentially damaging storms, PDA and organizations such as Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the American Red Cross promote faith-based community preparedness.

“That’s churches preparing their facilities and preparing their congregation, and by extension, preparing their community in the face of a disaster or an expectation of a disaster,” Kirk said. “For some, it’s hurricanes. For some, it’s tornadoes, flooding. By being proactive, a congregation asserts that it is possible to prepare for the worst and affirms our hope that as a community of faith we can weather the storm.”

Along with having a plan in place and conducting exercises to operationalize the plan, preparation might include “putting tarps over valuable equipment and making sure important records are securely housed,” Kirk said. “Preparedness can also include things like making sure windows and doors fasten securely and tightly and that roofs are appropriately tied down to resist hurricane winds.”

Last year, Hurricanes Laura and Delta damaged several churches in the Presbytery of South Louisiana, including Westminster Presbyterian Church of Sulphur, shown here. (Photo by Erich Mansell)

To receive disaster preparedness training, “mid councils can reach out to PDA to facilitate a disaster preparedness event for their congregations,” Kirk said. Also, “there’s a ton of resources available online” from organizations including FEMA and the American Red Cross.

One of the most important tips is to make sure that churches are adequately insured, Kirk noted.

“If every church and every congregation in the denomination would have adequate insurance, including flood insurance, that would go a long way in mitigating the impact of a disaster,” he said, adding that churches should review their policies annually. “Perhaps at the time the policy was written it was adequate, but years passed and laws change and value appreciates, and it may no longer be adequate.”

Although coastal areas often take the brunt of storms, people farther inland also should think about preparedness, FEMA recently noted in a news release.

“Tropical weather systems can have severe impacts hundreds of miles inland from the coast,” said Janice Barlow, an acting regional administrator for FEMA. “A storm does not need to be a major hurricane to cause damage, and it only takes one to change your life. Storms as recent as Hurricane Isaias, which impacted parts of Virginia, Maryland, Delaware and Pennsylvania in August 2020, are proof that residents and business owners in the Mid-Atlantic should take hurricane season seriously and begin preparing today.”

Presbyterian Disaster Assistance is one of the Compassion, Peace and Justice ministries of the Presbyterian Mission Agency. It is supported by gifts to One Great Hour of Sharing.

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