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Four degrees of separation

Storm preparation is crucial — even when the forecast doesn't look severe

Four degrees below freezing. That's all it took for a pipe to freeze and burst in the children's building at Hampton Road Baptist Church in DeSoto, Texas.

"The pipe was near a heating element. It was wrapped, insulated and inside a closet," said Bob Moore, minister of education and administration. "We assumed it would be safe, especially since it wasn't going to be that cold."

Small things make a big difference

The relatively mild temperatures turned out to be their undoing. It was a Saturday, and the thermostat was turned down because the building was empty. The chill outside wasn't enough to kick on the central heating. Had it been colder, the heat would've come on — and the pipe would have been less likely to freeze and burst.

The milder temperatures led to another problem: the pipe froze just long enough to burst, then thawed quickly Sunday morning. This led to a leak that poured through the children's facility and down the stairs.

"When our maintenance man found the leak early Sunday, he immediately tried to shut off the water," Moore continued. "But the valve was old and wouldn't budge. It took an additional 45 minutes to wrestle it shut, which allowed the leak to be that much worse." The impact was substantial, leading to about $30,000 in damage.

Once the leak was discovered and the water shut off, Moore and his staff sprang into action. The first step was to prevent more damage by removing things from the immediate area and using wet/dry vacuums to clean up as much water as possible.

"We took pictures of everything almost immediately," Moore said. That step was important to provide adjustors with documentation for a claim.

What matters most

"In some ways, we were fortunate," Moore said. "No one was injured, and while the damage was substantial, we were able to recover relatively quickly. Our P&C coverage was an important part of that."

Moore and his staff learned valuable lessons to help them prepare for the next storm — and prevent future damage.

"Our primary concern is protecting our people," Moore said. "You're dealing with lives. The liability concerns and property are important, but my test is whether I’m doing everything I can to protect our people. If we're not thinking of all the possible issues, people can get hurt. It’s important to stay prepared, even when conditions don't look like they'll be severe."

Suggestions on how to prepare your ministry for the winter

Even if the forecast calls for just a few degrees below freezing, plan for the worst.

  • Open cabinets to allow heated air to circulate around pipes.
  • Turn up the thermostat to ensure the heating will stay on long enough to keep at-risk pipes warmer.
  • Keep the water heater well insulated.
  • Let both the hot and cold water faucets drip steadily during freezing weather.

To help prepare your ministry for natural disasters year-round, see safety tips for spring/summer and fall.


This article is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be construed as legal advice. Readers should use this article as a tool, along with best judgment and any terms or conditions that apply, to determine appropriate policies and procedures for your church's risk management program.