With the unprecedented amount of snow that we've recently received in the Commonwealth, the following is important information for church leadership to consider. The sheer volume of snow not only presents hazards now, but for the future as well. Before the snow melts, prepare for possible adverse circumstances. You'll find several tips below. This blog also contains immediate steps you can take should you find yourself dealing with water damage.
If your social hall is on basement level, will you keep leaks from wreaking havoc with coffee hour by hiring snow removal (whether by a front loader, bobcat, snow blower or shovel)? If at all possible, once the snow no longer abuts the building, could you install window well covers for those windows below grade level? (Your daycare tenant will thank you!)
If your important historical documents such as baptism and wedding records are kept on the basement level, they'll be safest in plastic tubs and elevated off the floor. If these papers and pictures do sustain damage, you can freeze them in plastic baggies until you have time to dry and clean them.
Service Provider Lists
Where is the list of your vendors including your plow person, plumber, electrician, and insurance agent? It's a smart idea to have more than one copy of a vendor list (and and your insurance policy information) off-site somewhere. Who is responsible for calling vendors in the event of a building emergency? Do you have an emergency plan and a chain of command?
Snow on the Roof
Has snow accumulated on the flat roof over the Christian Education wing? Use a roof or snow rake to remove it, from ground level if possible. If you must use a ladder, be aware that the rungs can freeze and even the safest of work boots can become slick with snow and ice. If you use a metal rake, be careful not to have it be in contact with power lines as the metal will conduct electricity. If you need to get on the flat roof to remove snow, only do so if you've determined the roof is secure and do be wary of slippery edges. Make sure to provide notice to all who use the building and post signs, cones, or caution tape so that people aren't injured by falling snow.
The icicles hanging from the church may conjure up images of peaceful Christmas cards, but icicles can signal danger. Ice dams occur when the heat in the upper level melts the snow on the roof, causing that water to melt and refreeze. When additional snow melts and can't drain due to an ice dam, it will back up under the shingles and leak through the roof. Ice dams lead to ceiling leaks which lead to water damage...and, really, who has a 50 foot ladder to repaint the sanctuary?
Gutters can be compromised when they're filled with ice. The best way to deal with ice dams is to prevent them by getting even small amounts of snow off of the roof with a roof rake. You can also put calcium chloride ice melt into a leg of pantyhose or a sock and place it so it is across the dam and gutter. This will allow the snow to melt and drain down the gutter.
Speaking of gutters, you'll want to make sure your gutters and downspouts are free of debris. Winter storms can disconnect interlocking pieces, so make sure that connections are tight in order to have them drain effectively. It's a good idea to keep water draining at least three feet from the building.
Steer clear of sagging and bulging ceilings as they could burst open. If you have a manageable-sized bubble, you can insert a screwdriver to allow the water to drain into a bucket below. If your ceiling is wet, don't turn on ceiling lights or fans.
If the snow starts to melt against the building, consider covering inside electrical outlets at levels beneath the melting snow. If water is flooding in and electrical outlets will be compromised, shut off the electricity and call an electrician immediately.
If you find that the lower level is flooded, take some safety precautions. Make sure that the church is structurally safe to enter. Take a page from the Ark and go in two by two, rather than alone. In case of emergency, you’ll need someone to help (or to call for help).
Turn off the electricity at the breaker as long as you don’t have to stand in water to do so. From your dry location, you can use a wooden stirring spoon to open the panel, then to flip the switch. If the breaker panel or main circuit breaker is in the basement, call the power company or an electrician. Electrocution is a very real possibility even in nominal amounts of water. Even if the power company has shut off power to the street, make sure your panels are off as you have no way of knowing when they’ll reactivate the power (and you could be standing in water at the time).
Depending on the location and severity of the situation, you may want to turn off the gas or fuel oil. Flashlights and extension cords will come in handy as you begin the cleanup. Your situation will dictate whether you may need a sump pump, generator, or a heavy-duty gas engine pump. Gas powered generators should never be inside as they create hazardous exhaust.
Mop or wet-vac, but don't use a regular vacuum cleaner to remove water. Depending on the scope of the water damage, you may need to engage a water damage restoration company that will remove water and bring in heavy-duty fans.
Items that are wet are much heavier than when they are dry. Be aware of this as you clean up. You may want to fill several small bags than fewer large bags.
Once the water has been removed, ventilate the area well with fans (using outlets that haven’t been submerged) to prevent mold and mildew. If your chapel floor was flooded, place styrofoam blocks, wood blocks, or tinfoil under the legs of the communion table or other precious compromised furniture.
You may need to disinfect the ladies' society tea sets if the kitchen has been flooded. Clean all surfaces (including the inside and outside of cabinets) with a heavy duty disinfectant that specifically says it kill germs. Clean your kitchenware as follows: Make a solution of 2 tablespoons of chlorine bleach for each gallon of hot water and soak your china, glass and plastic dinner sets for ten minutes; then let the dishes air dry. Boil flatware and metals for ten minutes to disinfect.
Contacting Congregants and Tenants
Have a group designated to contact congregants and tenants if your building sustains damage and is rendered unusable. (By the way, do all of your tenants carry their own insurance? If not, it's advisable that they do, not only for their protection, but for yours. If someone slips at a dance class, your dance studio insurance should cover that claim.)What happens if you displace tenants? Can you work on a plan with them now to insure a minimum of confusion later?
Consider where you will hold worship (and activities) if your space becomes unusable. Does anyone in your congregation own or manage a business that has enough space and parking? Could you do a combined service with another local church with both pastors leading worship together? Would one of your local clergy association members allow you to use his/her church? Might you move the service day or time? Could you meet at a local restaurant, coffee shop, or fraternal organization hall? Would you drop off, mail or email bulletins, prayers, and sermons? Would you post print, audio, or video on your website or Facebook?
If your church sustains damage, call your insurance agent. Take pictures of the damage and any items that were destroyed. (Check with your agent to see if you must hold on to those items until an adjuster comes.)
If you start thinking about this now, you'll save yourself from scrambling down the road! God protected Noah by giving him advance warning of the flood. We, too, have that advance notice for we know that at some point, the snow will melt and all that water will go somewhere. God willing (and with your preparations and precautions), it won't be in your church basement!
For expert advice about winter storms and flooding, visit the Federal Emergency Management website at FEMA.org. For other helpful information about how your church can prepare for and respond to emergencies and disasters, please visit the Mass Conference Disaster Resource Team webpage at http://www.macucc.org/macuccdisasterresourceteam.
Rev. Estelle Margarones
Disaster Resource Team
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