Emergency Operations for Pandemics

What Are Emergency Operations?

For a congregation, Emergency Operations describe the ways we would change our day-to-day, week-to-week functioning during a community crisis. While some congregations have engaged in emergency operations planning in advance of a catastrophe such as the COVID-19 outbreak, many have not. Now is not too late to start.

Planning for a Pandemic's Spread

The US Centers for Disease Control offers guidance to Get Your Community-and Faith-Based Organizations Ready for Coronavirus Disease. This guidance will assist you in developing a pandemic-related emergency operations plan.

Congregations have shared with us their sample emergency operations plans for COVID-19, which we have compiled with our COVID-19-specific resources.

Some important factors to pay attention to in emergency operations planning:

  • Vulnerable people and populations within your congregation: how to protect them and limit their exposure to contagion.
  • A plan for ministers and staff to work from home, limit travel, or take sick time or family leave. See UUA guidance for congregations as employers during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Backup planning for worship if "essential" staff—like the preacher or the musician or any religious professional—is ill or quarantined on Sunday morning. (Some advise choosing at least two backups per essential staff.)
  • Backup planning if key lay leaders leaders (e.g. president, treasurer, pastoral care coordinator) are incapacitated. Make sure that the congregation can still make decisions, access its bank accounts and payroll, and mobilize support in a crisis. (Some advise choosing at least two backups in a situation like this.)
  • Backup planning for worship, youth group, meetings, and any other group gatherings that may be recommended against by local health authorities. Explore technology for worshipping online or meeting online.
  • Means for disinfecting the building, including high-touch areas like doorknobs, railings, and children's meeting spaces.
  • Clear communications to keep members and friends of the congregation informed of the congregation's response.

One minister advises that we consider backup planning "by role and task, meaning in some cases a person’s back up can take on the entirety of their task load, but another person may have several tasks each of which have a different back up structure."

Caring for One Another

In the short and longer term, building the capacity of your congregation's caring infrastructure is important. Having a network of trained lay pastoral caregivers, having a team for meals and rides, and even having a simple phone tree to check in on one another can help members find the support and connection they need during a crisis.

Logo of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Get Your Faith-Based Organizations Ready for Coronavirus Disease 2019 is an important resource for your congregation's emergency operations planning.

An image of the COVID-19 virus.