By: Dieter H. Nickel


When severe weather bears down, you need to be as well prepared as possible in order to protect your two most valuable assets-your church and your parishioners.

One look at the statistics will indicate the devastating power of severe weather. In 1989, total insured losses in the United States from natural catastrophes such as tornadoes, earthquakes, hail, rainstorms, floods and deep freezes totalled about $7 billion. With Hurricane Hugo and the northern California earthquake, 1989 was an abnormally costly year. But, even in the mildest years, insured losses exceed a billion dollars.

Though you can’t change the weather, with the proper precautions you can help protect your church and its occupants from the ravages of Mother Nature.


When it comes to lightning striking objects, a church is extremely vulnerable.

Some have high, prominent steeples jutting in the air.

Usually, the church is located between large parking lots and vast expanses of wide open grounds that offer little protection. And if your church is hit, all the air-conditioning, audiovisual and extensive electronic equipment can act as conductors, sending current throughout your church structure.

Lightning rods-protection through prevention.

Your best protection against lightning damage is a lightning protection system that has been certified by the tightening Protection Institute (LPI) or Underwriters Laboratories (UL)

The LPI has established the following guidelines as requirements for a safe, adequate system:

1. Lightning rods a maximum of 20 feet apart on high points of the roof and projections

2. A main conductor of heavy copper or aluminum cable to interconnect rods and grounds.

3. Bonds to metal bodies to prevent side flash.

4. Lightning surge arrestors to prevent damage from high waves of current in electrical wiring, appliances and motors.

5. Copper-clad ground rods at least 2-1/2″ in diameter. Sink all main rods in 10 feet of clay soil and any special grounding in sand, gravel or rocky soil.

6. Protection of adjacent or nearby structures.

7. An annual inspection and maintenance procedure.

Keep your people safe from lightning.

Over the past 20 years, an average of 101 people per year have been killed by lightning in the United States. While some situations are unavoidable, risks can be decreased by taking the proper precautions with your congregation during a thunderstorm.

While you’re inside the church, stay clear of open doors and windows. Also, get away from large appliances which may conduct lightning. And don’t use the phone except in emergency situations.

If you’re caught outside the church, try to find immediate protection. Don’t touch metal fences or objects and don’t seek protection under lone trees, taller trees or in unprotected shelter structures.

If your church group is hiking, a cave or cliff overhang is one of the safest areas to seek shelter. Keep your group spread a few feet apart. If a cave or overhang isn’t available, head for a low spot. Or seek shelter in a clump of head-high bushes.

If you’re at the beach, get off as soon as lightning is spotted. Do the same if you’re on a pier, dock or boat. Once lightning is present, get out of any body of water immediately, whether it’s a pool, lake or ocean.

And you can decrease your congregation’s chances of being struck by keeping everyone away from railroad tracks and out of open spaces.


High winds can occur at any time, whether they are associated with a tornado, hurricane, severe storm, or just a change in atmospheric conditions. With the proper preparation, you can protect your church from the havoc and destruction caused by ill winds.

* Keep church buildings free from overhanging branches and trees.

* Immediately replace broken windows and doors.

* Check latches on doors and windows.

* Install stormwindows and keep them securely closed.

* In the case of a tornado, do not open windows. Most structures have sufficient venting to allow for the sudden drop in atmospheric pressure. Opening a window, once thought to be the way to allow inside and outside pressure to equalize, thereby minimizing damage, is not recommended. Furthermore, opening the wrong window can actually increase damage.

Understanding the National Weather Service’s watch/warning system.

Your preparedness for a severe storm depends on your knowledge of the National Weather Service’s watch/warning system.

Tornado/severe thunderstorm watch–tornadoes and/or severe thunderstorms are possible (conditions are right).

Tornado or severe thunderstorm warning tornadoes and/or severe thunderstorms are occurring. The National Weather Service defines a severe thunderstorm as having winds of 58 miles per hour or more and/or hail of 3/4″ in diameter or larger.

When the possibility of tornadoes seems imminent, fast action can often prevent serious injury.

If a warning occurs during church services, do not attempt to leave the building and drive to safety. Your best bet is to seek shelter in storm cellars, well constructed basements or the lowest floor of the church

If none of these options exist, take cover under a sturdy table, desk or stairway in the lowest floor of the building Another area of protection is a closet or bathroom in the center of the church.

Remember, stay in your protected area for at least 15 to 30 minutes after the thunderstorm has passed.


When the rain refuses to stop and rivers begin to swell, your chances of protecting your church from significant property damage greatly increase if you’ve taken steps to waterproof your buildings. A few of the ways you can minimize property damage include:

* Basement cracks and leaks invite water problems. Contact a local contractor for information or an evaluation of the condition of your basement walls.

* Keep valuable equipment like electrical appliances, woodwork or antiques off the floor with pallets or bricks.

* Check window sills during rain storms for dampness due to leaks. Caulk leaks and cracks immediately.

* Check leave troughs regularly to keep them free from leaves and twigs.

* During rainstorms, watch for moisture leaks in the roof and ceiling. Repair leaks as soon as possible.

* Move valuable property to safe areas.

* Run a dehumidifier in damp places, making sure excess water is drained properly and the cord is kept out of water.

* Place rocks or bricks under eave trough outlets to prevent erosion damage

* Plant or maintain trees, shrubs and grass to prevent erosion damage.

Flood stage–planning, not panic.

Taking the proper precautionary measures before a flood occurs can make the storm less traumatic for your congregation and less costly in terms of damage.

* Keep materials on hand such as sandbags, plywood, plastic sheeting and lumber.

* Install check valves in building sewer traps to prevent water from backing up in sewer drains.

* Keep first aid supplies on hand.

* Keep automobiles fueled.

* Keep a stock of food that requires little cooking.

* Keep portable radios, emergency cooking equipment, lights and flashlights in working order.

* Know your elevation above floodstage.

* Know your evacuation route.


If you’re not properly prepared, cold weather and winter storms can often be more destructive to church property than their warm weather counterparts. So when the leaves start to turn and cold weather is on the horizon, get your church ready for the raw, bitter weather ahead.

How to keep ice out of your plumbing system.

* Insulate all water or drain pipes that travel through poorly heated areas such as cupboards, closets, corner areas, and areas against outside walls.

* Wrap pipes with two layers of one-inch insulation wrap. Secure in place with duct tape. Be sure not to compress the insulation unnecessarily as this will reduce the insulating value.

* Pipes in an attic’s exterior walls and other unheated areas are particularly susceptible to freezing. Consult your local plumbing or heating contractor for necessary modification information to prevent freezing.

* For more information on cold weather safety tips for your church, consult another issue of this protection series: Protecting Your Church Against Cold-Weather Damage and Energy Loss.

Don’t get stuck with an ill-prepared vehicle.

Many church pastors winterize their church but forget about the church vehicle–the piece of equipment that can become stranded miles from civilization. In the winter, your automobile can be your best friend or worst enemy depending onhow you winterize it. To make sure you’re ready for any weather, keep your vehicle prepared year-round.

Always check the following items before winter weather sets in:

* Ignition

* Battery

* Lights

* Tire tread

* Cooling system

* Fuel system

* Lubricator

* Exhaust system light

* Heater

* Brakes adjusted

* Snow tires

* Chains

* Antifreeze

* Winter grade oil

* Full gas tank to keep water out

When it comes to your church vehicle, don’t trust your luck.

Winter storms develop quickly, which means what you have on board your vehicle can make a life-threatening situation a survivable encounter. Always keep the following items on hand:



* Blankets or sleeping bag

* Matches and candles

* Facial tissue

* Paper towels

* Extra clothing

* High-calorie (nonperishable) food

* Knife

* Shovel

* Sack of sand

* Flashlight or signal light

* Windshield scraper

* Two tow chains

* Fire extinguisher

* Catalytic heater

* Axe

* Emergency road reflectors


You’re trapped in a church vehicle; what next?

* Avoid overexertion and exposure.

* Stay in your vehicle.

* Don’t panic.

* Keep fresh air in your car.

* Beware of the gentle killers, carbon monoxide and oxygen starvation.

* Exercise by clapping hands and moving arms and legs vigorously.

* Turn on dome light at night for visibility.

* Keep watch-do not permit all occupants to sleep at once.

For additional severe weather safety information, contact:

1. Church Mutual’s loss control department.

2. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration–Rockville, Maryland, U.S. Department of Commerce 20852.

3. Underwriters Laboratories–333 Pfingsten Road, Northbrook, IL; (708) 272-8800.

4. Lightning Protection Institute–P.0. Box 1039, Woodstock, IL 60098; (815) 337-0277.

Emergency telephone numbers.

Police ____________________________________
Fire ______________________________________
Ambulance _________________________________
Hospital __________________________________
Church Mutual
Representative ____________________________


(The above material is a pamphlet from a series of protection booklets published by the Church Mutual Insurance Company, in Merrill, WI.)

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