Stillwater News Press

August 30, 2013

Churches look toward new program for tornado safety and plan development

By Megan Sando
Stillwater NewsPress

STILLWATER, Okla. — Imagine being in service on a Sunday when a tornado strikes – one initiative is on a mission to turn panic into a plan.

Supercell Sunday is an initiative focused on houses of worship and large gathering places on behalf of the Oklahoma Office of Homeland Security.

It would bring church administrators and emergency management personnel together in a community effort to form a disaster plan.

“The primary focus is increasing awareness,” said Wendi Marcy, program manager for public outreach and preparedness.

After the last tornado in Moore, many people panicked and drove, she said. The preferred method is a having a plan.

“We have significantly large churches in Oklahoma and cars are dangerous during a tornado,” she said.

The goal of the initiative is to begin a conversation between local first responders, emergency mangers and church staff.

“A lot of people don’t know where to start,” Marcy said.

To begin with, churches may contact the security department for help. The next step would be to contact the city emergency manger. If for some reason that doesn’t work, Marcy said churches can always call the American Red Cross to help with planning.

Supercell’s website explains three ways that churches can get started. The first is to plan, then pledge and put it into practice. The plan includes a 17-page tornado response plan template and tip sheet. The guidelines of the facility, the purpose of the plan and the roles and responsibilities are outlined.

For instance, a person is designated to watch for severe weather and another may coordinate with first responders.

The church can then pledge to practice the plan once or more a year.

Marcy said since Supercell is relatively new, there have been no pledges yet.

“We are looking to get a preliminary word out there that would encourage people,” Marcy said.

Churches may access the pledge on its website at http://tinyurl.com/supercellsunday.

Although Marcy said many churches don’t have a plan, some local churches in Stillwater aim to devise one.

Pastor Tim Walker at the First Baptist Church in Stillwater said if more churches knew, it could be helpful.

“It’s probably a good idea for any congregation to look at suggestions that emergency responders might have,” Walker said.

To put the plan in action, the church must practice how to conduct a tornado drill.

“It scared me because we don’t have a plan,” said Jill Prather, office manager at Sunnybrook Christian Church.

The initiative will “encourage worship leaders and building managers to reach out to the emergency managers and first responders in their communities for help identifying safe places in the building and fine tuning their facility’s tornado plan,” according to a news release from the security department.

LifeChurch.tv, which is ranked as the fifth largest church in the nation by Outreach magazine, is one congregation that does have emergency management on site.

“Although LifeChurch.tv does not represent any of its buildings as being weather shelters, each location, including the Stillwater campus, has specific action steps that can be taken when severe weather is a possibility or is in the area during a scheduled service or event,” said Stillwater pastor G.T. Moody in a statement Tuesday. “From initial forecast monitoring, using information provided by media and local authorities, to sheltering in specific places within the building, our campus teams are equipped to help ensure that our guests are safe.”

Churches wishing to join the Supercell campaign may do so by visiting the website or by contacting Wendi Marcy at wmarcy@dps.state.ok.us.