Wildfires in California, hurricanes on the Gulf Coast, tornadoes and severe flooding in the Midwest. Is it nature as usual, or is it climate change? Whichever it is, storms seem to be increasing in severity and frequency, and that’s a good reason for congregations to make sure their insurance coverage is up to date and to take a new look at their emergency preparedness plans.
Patrick Moreland, vice president of marketing with Church Mutual, the company that insures 60 percent of Unitarian Universalist congregations, has the following advice for church leaders:
- Don’t keep the insurance policy in the church building. If the building should be damaged or destroyed getting information about your coverage could be delayed. Moreland recommends asking several members to carry cards with your insurance company’s phone number and the policy number so the company can be contacted easily in an emergency. Several church leaders should also know where the actual policy can be found, whether in a safe deposit box or a member’s home.
- Moreland reminds that disasters can occur anywhere. “One of the biggest mistakes that people make is assuming that they’ll never get hit.” Hurricanes aren’t limited to the southeast and the Gulf Coast, Moreland notes. Likewise, flooding can inundate areas that have not been flooded before, especially in light of increased urbanization, where paved surfaces increase runoff and drainage systems may be overwhelmed.
- Check the limits on your current policy. “Having adequate levels of insurance is an age-old problem with churches,” he says. “When our people go out to do a quote and they do a valuation on a church property it’s not uncommon for the value to be much higher than the property is insured for. Whether they sign up with us or someone else, part of our job is convincing them they should increase their coverage. And if you’ve bought more property or acquired an expensive item but haven’t mentioned it to your agent, it could affect the amount you can recover in case of a claim.”
- Consider flood insurance if it’s available in your area, Moreland recommends. “It’s not inexpensive, but if you have flood damage it will have been a good decision. A lot of people who should have flood insurance don’t. We find that out every time there is a flood.” Church Mutual doesn’t sell flood insurance, but it is available through a national flood insurance website, so ask your insurance agent.
When the First UU Society of Marietta, Ohio, had flood damage a few years ago it learned from the experience, says then-minister the Rev. Diane Dowgiert. For example, the Building and Grounds Committee put together a flood kit, including information on how high the rivers can rise before there will be water in the basement and checklists of what to turn off in advance of evacuating the building: pilot lights, electricity, water lines, etc. Included in the kit are plumber’s “test plugs,” inflatable rubber devices to be placed in basement floor drains to keep water from backing up into a building, which could have prevented some of the damage at Marietta, Dowgiert noted at the time.
Church Mutual has a “protection series” of 11 booklets on its website to help congregations protect against fire, crime, weather, and other risks. It also has a Hurricane Preparedness Guide and a 24-page self-inspection safety checklist for church properties. The American Red Cross and the Federal Emergency Management Agency also have guides on preparing for disasters.
One final preparedness tip: It’s an excellent idea to conduct regular emergency preparedness tours of your facilities, showing key leaders the location of fire extinguishers, medical supplies, gas and electrical shut-offs, and telephones.