When disaster strikes your local community, your church is in a unique position to provide relief. You have a group of people who are willing to help; your building and resources can offer a lifeline to the people who need it most.

Depending on where you live, your community could be at risk for a wide range of crises. If you want your church to be a valuable resource and refuge in times of need, here are five things you can do to prepare for disaster response:

  1. Contact Local Authorities Before Disaster Strikes

When it comes to disaster relief, the last thing you want to do is reinvent the wheel or develop your own response strategy in a bubble. You want to maximize the impact of your church, which means supporting the response systems that are already in place.

Police, fire departments, and other local organizations are already well aware of what disasters could befall your community and how to prepare for them. Your neighborhood may have well-known seasonal battles with wildfires or floods, but your geography could pose other not-so-obvious hazards. These departments can show your church what disaster response looks like in your area.

  1. Learn Evacuation Routes In Your Community

During a crisis, lack of information (or misinformation) can increase the damage inflicted on your community. When you talk to your local authorities, find out what an ideal evacuation looks like. Where should people go? How should they get there? These routes will vary depending on the location of the disaster, but if your church staff knows the evacuation routes in advance, it can be one of the most helpful ways you can respond to disaster.

You don’t have to announce disaster evacuation routes from the pulpit each weekend, but in times of disaster, your church should be poised to spread the word.

  1. Keep Necessary Supplies On Hand

Your church isn’t trying to replace the fire department. But once you know what disasters you’re at risk for, you can stock up on some basic supplies to help out. You should always have first aid equipment, but depending on your level of risk for natural disasters, you may want more.

Hurricanes and tornados knock down trees, block roadways, and can even trap people inside their homes. Chainsaws, axes, and other landscaping equipment give your church more ways to help clean up after a crisis.

  1. Identify Places Where Your Congregation Can Find Shelter

Not everyone has time to evacuate before a natural disaster. Your congregation needs to know where they can go when their home isn’t safe. It might mean high ground if you’re at risk for flooding or far from trees if there’s a tendency for wildfires. Your church might have an architecturally sound sanctuary that would be a perfect shelter during a disaster, but it’s possible that a local gym or a library could be a more secure location. Whatever it is, the important thing is that your congregation knows where to go, and you share that information with them.

  1. Host Training Seminars

There are probably people in your church who would like to know basic first-aid and CPR but just haven’t got around to getting trained. Find out how many people are interested and work with local organizations to host a training seminar. This could even be a great way to engage your community if you open the seminar to the public.

Be Prepared

Imagine the impact your church could have if you were prepared to serve the most vulnerable and hurting members of your community. What would it be like if people saw your church as a valuable resource—whether they’re believers or not?

If you’re prepared, God could use your church to minister to your neighbors in times of need.