It’s safe to say that Hurricane Ike left no island congregation untouched when it struck on Sept. 13, 2008. But, almost six years later, what lessons have been learned that can help them prepare against the next big storm?

Churches represent a special case when it comes to disaster preparation. Unlike homes or businesses, they are often empty during the week.They tend to have more vulnerable designs, with wider roofs and fewer internal supports than many other island structures.

The Rev. Chester J. Makowski, vicar of Galveston’s St. Augustine of Hippo Episcopal Church, 1410 Jack Johnson Blvd., recounted Ike’s lessons and offered his counsel to other religious leaders.

“Just like a homeowner, it is a good idea to photograph or video your church’s contents,” he said. “And, for churches with a liturgical tradition (where vestments and altar appointments such as chalices are used) having a record of such things can be very important given the cost to replace them. If you have musical and sound equipment, especially something like a pipe organ, you might also get a snapshot of the manufacturer’s plate identifying the it. Lastly, if you can, take smaller items out when you evacuate, like vestments and expensive metalwork.”

Churches may also often be the sole repositories for unique, irreplaceable sets of records that may be neither computerized nor stored in the cloud. A number of the island’s oldest churches have paper logbooks going back well over 100 years.

“When evacuating, take important church records with you,” Makowski said. “These may include parish registers recording baptismal, communion, confirmation, marriage and burial records. These records contain the sacred moments in people’s lives and most span a very long period of time.”

Keeping the church’s flood and windstorm insurance premiums paid is an obvious, though not automatic, must-do as well, especially since these policies can carry an automatic coverage delay. That means that waiting until a storm is on the horizon isn’t an option for those charged with keeping the sacred property safe.

Makowski also recommended that members and staff take a current church directory, in printed form if possible, when evacuating. Internet access to online directories may not be available after a storm.

“I do a daily reflection for the members here to keep in touch with them and to let them know of events and issues,” he said.

During this time of year, I remind them that we all need to be hurricane ready.”

David Popoff, Galveston County’s emergency management coordinator offered official advice for county congregations.

“The changing world that we live in requires everyone to be prepared for an emergency, but most disasters or emergencies don’t allow enough time to come up with a response plan,” Popoff said. “This is why it is imperative for your church to have a plan in place that can be activated during a time of crisis.”

Rick Cousins can be reached at

Next week

Experts advise on how churches should address recovery and ministry after a major storm passes.

Steps your church can take to prepare

  • Assess what governing bodies in your church exist that could take action quickly if disaster relief is necessary. Do you have a process for this response? Who knows what to do?
  • Does your church have concerns about liability, damage to facilities, or cost involved in participating in a coordinated disaster relief response? If so, address these concerns as soon as possible.
  • Select a liaison from the church to contact local city, county and Red Cross offices. Develop these relationships and confer with them about a coordinated response.
  • If other churches in your community are not involved in this planning, contact, organize and engage them.

Source: David Popoff, Galveston County Office of Emergency Management

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