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Six ways to weather a severe storm

Spring is peak tornado season in the United States. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), there are an average of 909 tornadoes each year in the United States. Florida and the southern plains states, including Texas and Alabama, have climates that are conducive to producing the super cell thunderstorms from which many tornadoes are born.

However, severe weather, which also can include lightning, hail and straight-line winds, as well as tornadoes, can happen anywhere. So it's wise to be prepared. In the event of a severe storm that strikes during a worship service, church members will look to church leadership and staff for directions. The risk management experts at Brotherhood Mutual suggest having a severe-weather plan in place before the storm sirens blare.

Here are six things to help your congregation weather a severe storm.

Identify your safe shelters

Identify a safe shelter where your people can ride out a storm. A basement or subterranean space is best. But if that's not an option, choose an interior hallway on the lowest level of your property. Make sure it is away from doors and windows. It's best to avoid structures with high or free-span roofs, like the church sanctuary or a gymnasium. If your church campus is comprised of more than one building, designate shelters in each building.

Assign leaders

Assign a team of employees and volunteers who can escort people to the designated shelter in the event of a storm warning. Post evacuation routes and procedures in highly visible areas throughout your property. If possible, extra staff and volunteers should jump in to assist with children and people with disabilities.

Monitor the weather

A severe spring storm can evolve rapidly, so it's important to stay on top of the weather situation. Today most people will monitor the weather using their cell phones. However, if cell service or electricity is interrupted, a specialized NOAA Weather Radio is a valuable device to keep in place. If your church is large and your safe zones are in different areas of the campus, also determine how volunteers from each of the zones will share information with one another and what the conditions in which an all-clear signal will be broadcast.

Ensure a safe release

When the severe weather has passed, staff and volunteers should sweep the buildings, the parking lots and the area around the church to ensure that it is safe to allow people out of the safe zones. Make sure it is safe to leave their safe shelter and/or make their way outside. If the storm leaves behind debris, such as broken tree limbs, volunteers can redirect people around the obstacles.

Reunite families

Your weather emergency plan should include steps to help parents reunite with their children at the conclusion of the storm. Determine if you want parents to pick children up in their individual rooms or have all the children in a central area. The volunteers and leaders from the safe zone areas should know this information so they can share it with parents who may have sheltered with them. Also, designate a central area where family members and groups can reunite.

Practice with a drill

Having a storm drill during a church service may seem disruptive, but it can help church members build confidence and point out weak spots where extra planning might be needed. Before the drill, educate your staff and congregation about your emergency plan and explain what will happen and what you need them to do.

No one can predict when or where severe storms will hit this spring. With a severe storm plan, your ministry will be ready to weather whatever storms come your way.

You can learn much more about protecting your people and your buildings during a severe-weather event in Brotherhood Mutual's Safety Library .