Another Thought on Open Doors


Recently, fire in a multi-family residence forced twenty persons out of their homes on a cold, rainy night, needing emergency shelter while a more permanent solution was sought. This happened in a community where no regular Red Cross shelter existed, and the Red Cross issued an urgent request through the Oregon Volunteer Organizations Active in Disasters (ORVOAD) seeking a location they could shelter these persons. ORVOAD immediately forwarded the request to member organizations and, within a few hours, shelter was found. The community had a number of emergency services, schools, churches, and other suitable community buildings, yet time was lost while a location was secured after normal business hours.

Perhaps something like this has occurred in your community. If so, did your church provide shelter, or did members serve as volunteers in the crisis? Could your church provide shelter tonight if there was an immediate need? Crises like this seldom happen during regular business hours. It is more likely they will happen at night, on the weekend, or on a holiday when the usual contact numbers go to voicemail.
The Red Cross seeks to minimize challenges like this by working with churches like yours to identify potential emergency shelters in each community. If you work with them, you minimize their challenge when someone in need requires shelter right now. Our Conference Disaster Preparedness and Response Plan has a section that outlines the process you can use to evaluate your church, copied here:

Emergency Shelter Planning

Your church or other ministry may be requested by the Red Cross to provide emergency shelter. Red Cross-approved shelters, whether in churches or schools, are covered by Red Cross liability and damage insurance. If you believe your church or ministry might serve as an emergency shelter, you should work with the Red Cross in advance to make certain you meet all applicable rules and regulations. Upon request, the Red Cross will inspect your facility to determine if it is suitable for use as an emergency shelter. To determine capacity, they look at a number of different criteria including: square footage of potential sleeping area, number of toilets, number of shower heads, space available for feeding, and accessibility. As a minimum they are looking for the following characteristics in an ideal shelter facility:

  • Dormitory area of at least 1000 sq. feet.
  • Eating area for at least 25 people
  • 3-4 toilets
  • 2-3 showers
  • ADA accessible
  • An indoor entry area where registration can occur
  • A small room or two that can be used by disaster health or mental health services to provide assistance.

If a facility falls short in some area (e.g., showers), but is otherwise suitable, they look for a nearby facility (e.g., rec center) to fill the shortfall. If they determine your facility is suitable, an agreement will be signed specifying the terms and condition of its use by the Red Cross.

Your church should not open your own shelter unless you meet local building codes, are requested, you are willing to assume the costs of repair and liability, and you understand you will be fully responsible for any harm to residents or damage to the facility.

You can read the full plan on the Disaster Preparedness web page on our Conference website.

Help open your doors a little wider in your community.

Dan Moseler
Dan Moseler is the Disaster Preparedness Coordinator for the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference. Contact him if you have questions about how individuals and churches can prepare themselves for disaster, and be prepared to support others in need both locally and across the globe.