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Inclusive Emergency Planning: Ensuring Safety for Seniors & People with Disabilities

Updated: Oct 22, 2023

Natural disasters throughout history have taught us the importance of being prepared. Since emergencies often disproportionately impact older adults and individuals with disabilities, you must take additional precautions to ensure their safety. With proper planning and effective communication among your staff and volunteers, you can safeguard all your congregation. Utilize our IPCP method (Identify · Plan · Communicate · Practice) to create comprehensive plans of action that’ll protect your congregation.

Identify The first step to creating safety solutions is identifying those in your congregation that will require additional assistance in the case of an emergency. It is recommended to designate either an individual or small task force, and to always operate with tact. Once individuals have been identified, you will need to meet with them and their families to discuss their specific needs and the appropriate measures that must be taken to achieve a safe and swift exit.

Plan One safety plan does not work for all, so make time to tailor a plan of action to each member. Non-ambulatory persons and individuals with mobility limitations, aids, or devices may require additional assistance. People with hearing or visual limitations and sensory challenges may need specific warning and response plans.

Brainstorm and plan for the various scenarios that could potentially occur, devising the smartest courses of action. Be sure to create multiple emergency routes and evacuation paths from several places on your church’s property — not just the sanctuary! What’s the best exit for those in wheelchairs? Is a plan in place for transporting older adults from each level of the facility safely? The time to start thinking is now.

Communicate Once you’ve worked with your members, their families, staff, and volunteers to develop exhaustive plans, you must share all critical information with the appropriate individuals. Clearly communicate with and train your emergency personnel team- this can include ushers, greeters, staff, teachers, medical providers, and anyone else that you’ll need to rely on during emergencies. Make sure all parties understand their roles and are committed to executing the plan.

Finally, share your expectations in the event of an emergency with your congregation. Encourage older adults and individuals with disabilities to provide contact information of those within their support system in case they need to be notified of injuries or other problems during emergencies.

Practice Now that you’ve communicated your plans, you should conduct an emergency evacuation drill at the end of a service. Inform your congregation of the drill ahead of time, and have people exit the sanctuary as if there were an actual emergency. Be sure to plan to practice at least once a year!

3 Tips to Remember:

  • Work with your Board of Trustees to make sure that the proper signs, pathways, and lighting are in place for those who will require additional assistance.

  • Consult with wheelchair users on their evacuation preferences and ask for information on how to operate the equipment (tutorials and drills highly recommended).

  • It’s important that those who are dependent on government benefits understand that disasters might delay the mail. Let them know they can sign up for direct deposit here.


This content has been prepared by United Methodist Insurance Company (UMI) for informational purposes only. No article or document may accurately contemplate all possible scenarios or church resources. As such, this information is meant to foster discussion by the individual church and its members to develop a plan tailored to its own circumstances. UMI is providing this information with no warranties or guarantees of any kind and it should not be viewed as legal, financial, or other professional advice. All liability is expressly disclaimed. Any claim examples described herein are general in nature, may or may not be based on actual claims, and are for informational purposes only. Any coverage available for a claim is determined from the facts and circumstances of the claim as well as the terms and conditions of any applicable policy, including any exclusions or deductibles. In the event of a conflict with the content herein, the terms and conditions of any issued policy will control. Individual coverage may vary and may not be available in all states.

The commercial insurance coverages for United Methodist Insurance are sold and serviced directly or indirectly by Sovereign Insurance Agency (CA Lic. No. 0B01380) ("Sovereign") and underwritten by various available insurance markets. Sovereign pays United Methodist Insurance a royalty for the use of its intellectual property.


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