It is vital to ensure, as far as is practically possible, the health, safety and welfare of all users of and visitors to your church building. In the unfortunate event of an emergency affecting a church building, it is essential that an appropriate procedure is already in place to deal with the situation. Emergency situations may be varied in nature and can range from fire to flooding and explosions to general building hazards.
2. Three Key Steps
The three key steps that need to be taken are: risk assessment; emergency planning; and recovery planning. Each of these steps is referred to below and links are given where appropriate. This document concentrates on the second of these steps: emergency planning.
2.1 Risk Assessments
For further advice on this element see Fire Safety in Churches.There are other risks in addition to fire, such as asbestos, and general health and safety which should also be taken into consideration either in one combined risk assessment or in separate risk assessments.
2.2 Emergency Planning
Your risk assessment(s) will determine all measures which you may require to take to reduce or manage your risks. These measures will be particular to your own church building. In particular, you are likely to require a written evacuation plan, covering such matters as assembly points; identification of key escape routes; means of warning of emergency; and means of liaison with emergency services.
2.3 Recovery Planning
You should refer to your Archdeacon, the Parish Property Support Team (020 7932 1230) and the Diocesan Registry (020 7593 5015) for advice and assistance on what to do, in the period following immediate emergency action.
3. Emergency Planning
It is important that you produce and display basic advice as to the standard procedure and precautionary steps that should be followed in the event of an emergency situation occurring.
3.1 Action Plan in Emergency
(a) An Action Plan in Emergency should be put together. A sample version is available for download at the end of this article. This is a printer friendly document which can be filled in, using a permanent marker, with details particular to your own church. Before entering any personal details, you should obtain the agreement of those concerned. Please note that in point 3 of the action plan, you should write the number of your principal electricity supplier. This document should be mounted in a clearly visible position close to the main entrance of the church.
(b) Note that additional steps are likely to be required of individual churches, dependent on the outcome of your church’s risk assessment(s).
3.2 Steps to be taken in emergency after alerting the Emergency Services
(a) A document should also be put together providing details of those people/bodies that should be contacted after the emergency services have been alerted to an incident.
(b) A sample document outlining the level of information required can be found in the resources section of this article.
(c) Two copies each of Action Plan Stage 1 and Stage should be kept: laminated copies should be mounted close to the main entrance of the church; another copy of each should be kept off site with a churchwarden. Laminated copies may be obtained from the Parish Property Support Team.
3.3 Plan of the Church
(a) A properly put together architectural plan of the church and any attached buildings will be of great use to the emergency services. A copy of the plan should be mounted in a clearly visible position near to the main entrance of the church, next to the Action Plan document.
(b) The plan should accurately depict the church, showing all walls, doorways and staircases and any obstacles sited in the main internal walking route. Any upper levels or buildings attached to the church should also be shown in plan.
(c) The location of the following, where applicable, should be clearly marked:
Emergency assembly point(s)
Fire extinguishers (including their type) and other firefighting equipment
Electricity inlet (fuse box)
Hose reels and dry risers
Mains water stop cock
External water mains in the curtilage of the church
Any flammable or other hazardous substances
(d) Any areas such as kitchens which may be the site of a hazard, or may from time to time contain hazardous substances, should also be highlighted.
(e) A copy of the plan should always be given to a nominated salvage person (usually a churchwarden) so that he/she can identify to the emergency services where articles of value are situated in the event of an emergency.
(f) You may wish to consult your Quinquennial Inspector (QI), should you require assistance in putting together an appropriate architectural plan.
(a) You should take cognisance of your church building insurance company’s published advice and always adhere to the conditions of your insurance policy.
(b) You should also note that your church may have a copy of a Health and Safety File under the Construction, Design, and Management Regulations 1994. If so, a copy of the file should be kept in a location other than the church. The insurance company should be advised as to the location of both this file and the Asbestos Report (if not part of the Health and Safety File) in the event of an emergency. If you cannot locate your copy of the Asbestos Report contact the Diocese of London’s Director of Property’s PA on 020 7932 1215 or the Parish Property Support Team on 020 7932 1230.
5. General Points
(a) Remember that general good maintenance and housekeeping will assist in mitigating the consequences of any future cases of disaster affecting your church premises.
(b) This guidance is only intended to assist with situations arising from your church buildings. Instructions from the emergency services should be sought regarding any situation affecting the wider vicinity, such as a terrorism incident. In such cases, churches may be able to provide valuable help and comfort to those affected – as they did during the 7 July bombings – in consultation with the advice and instructions of the civil authorities.
6. Useful Links
(a) The London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority can provide further detailed information. Their website is www.london-fire.gov.uk.
Diocese of London Parish Property Support Team September 2007
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