Communication is key during a disaster

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As storms and hurricanes continue to form in the Atlantic, Florida Baptist churches must remain prepared and alert in the event a storm does make landfall within our peninsula. Part of being effectively prepared is having an efficient emergency communication system in place.

During hurricane season Wayside Baptist Church in Miami includes instructions in case of a hurricane or storm in their Sunday worship announcements.

“If the news says that we’re in a storm watch then services go on but if it changes to a storm warning that means that services are canceled,” said David Moore, Wayside’s pastor. Those instructions are also included in a newsletter that goes out periodically.

The best time to establish emergency channels is during times of peace, said Mark MacDonald, strategic communication catalyst of the Florida Baptist Convention. “Examples include your website home page, a text message, an email, or your social media account. Make sure your congregation knows how, where, and when you’ll respond to emergencies.”

Emergency messages should be concise otherwise the intended audience is more apt to ignore them, said MacDonald. The best method is to “use a short sentence to describe your response (use the storm name or emergency name in your headline or subject) and give short bullet points that provide enough details to help your congregation understand you’re aware, concerned and prepared. Finish with a call-to-action for their next step.”

Delton Beall, state director of Florida Baptist Disaster Relief, encourages churches to communicate emergency messages through Life Groups and small group leaders as they have direct access to specific groups of church members. He also advises churches to look after senior adults and singles as they are more vulnerable during emergency situations.

In the event of an intense emergency, however, senior leadership should send the message. “More people tend to read content from senior leadership,” said MacDonald.

During the storm Moore advises his congregation to stay put. “It’s dangerous to drive around when a storm is happening so as soon as there is a storm watch we tell our people to stay indoors.”

Losing power is very likely but most people will keep a cell phone on hand to stay up to date and receive information during the storm. This is the most effective form of communication with members while the storm is passing. “A simple email, text message, or a post on your social media is usually enough,” adds MacDonald.

It is probable that after the storm many people will need help clearing their yards or sawing fallen trees amongst other things. Those interviewed for this story advise the church to make it clear to members as well as the community the proper channel for requesting help. Specifically, according to MacDonald, “be clear in all communication how you want people to respond with requests.” He adds that some ways your church could receive requests could be through comments or direct messages on social media channels, email replies or an online form on a website.

Follow Florida Baptist Disaster Relief on Facebook and visit FLBaptist.org/disaster-relief/ for more information and to donate to relief efforts.

By Keila Diaz, Florida Baptist Convention,September 25, 2018

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