Community Organizations Contend With Severe Weather, Growing Expectations

Meeting consumer expectations and mitigating risk

January 25, 2024 Photo

As the number of severe weather events continues to rise, consumers are expecting more of their community organizations—specifically, they want local facilities to be available as community shelters in emergency situations. If organizations fail to meet these expectations, they could lose not only funding, but also the trust of the people they want to serve.

According to Church Mutual’s new “Risk Radar Report — Severe Weather,” 82% of Americans feel houses of worship, schools, camps, and nonprofit organizations should prepare in advance for severe weather events, as members and patrons are likely to seek shelter from severe weather there.

More than four in five Americans (84%) say they would be impacted if one of these organizations was unable to provide services due to severe weather’s effect on the facility. Survey respondents reported they would have nowhere else to go, and if their organization was unable to provide services, it would be devastating for them on both a financial and emotional level. They may even be forced to consider living in their vehicles.

The implications of this research are clear: It’s time for organizations to plan for the very real possibility of needing to convert into a temporary shelter.

Potential for Liability

That doesn’t mean, of course, they should just rush blindly into the process. On the contrary, the liability implications could be immense for organizations that either do not offer the right services in a community’s time of need, or don’t properly plan to be truly ready to house people.

Not only could an organization risk having a tragedy occur on its property, but also it could lose donors. That could be a major problem moving forward: According to the Fundraising Effectiveness Project, organizations only recapture about 4% of donors they lose. Additionally, the organization could lose the trust of the people it serves, which could set it into a downward spiral.

Planning to Address Risk

The first step for an organization to mitigate risk is to contact the American Red Cross or a similar local organization. Every municipality has specific requirements for housing people in a non-residential building. Humanitarian organizations such as the Red Cross have the experience to help them avoid common pitfalls limit the organizations liability exposure. Organizations should also contact their insurance agent or broker to ensure they have the necessary insurance to serve as a shelter.

They also need to make sure their facility itself is in safe condition from the severe weather event. People seeking shelter want to be certain they are protected so they don’t run the risk of being injured.

Additionally, organizations should stock up on supplies they will need for the people who would be staying at their facility, which include food and water, disinfecting supplies, communication devices, batteries, and a first-aid kit.

Other items to keep in mind for proper risk management:

  1. Plan for adequate security. People need safety not only from the weather, but also from each other. Organizations should create an emergency plan that includes steps for protecting their guests from theft, sexual assault, and other problems.
  2. Consider how they will handle housekeeping. Even just a few guests for a few days can create a significant mess. Organizations will likely need more help than what their custodial staff can offer. They might need to put together a roster of volunteers who could help in such a situation.
  3. Create a list of qualifications for admitting residents. Anyone seeking shelter in the facility should have a valid form of identification, not partake in drugs or alcohol while on the premises and be over the age of 18 unless accompanied by a parent or guardian.
  4. Put together detailed plans to reduce the risk of falls, kitchen injuries and other hazards. The people who will be staying in their facility are not accustomed to the organization’s normal procedures. It’s up to the individual organization to create lists of rules and cautions, and to make its building as hazard-free as possible.

When organizations give significant thought to how they could convert into a shelter in an emergency, they are reassuring their community members that they truly care about them. This can go a long way toward fulfilling their mission.

About The Authors
Eric Spacek

Eric Spacek is assistant vice president – risk control at Church Mutual Insurance Company.

Sponsored Content
Daily Claims News
  Powered by Claims Pages
About The Community

CLM’s Environmental and Toxic Tort Committee focuses on existing and emerging issues in the environmental, pollution, and mass tort context. This encompasses long-tail claims as well as claims submitted on currently issued policies.

Community Events
No community events