Winter storm preparedness paramount for churches and schools sheltering civilians


Winter storm preparedness paramount for churches and schools sheltering civilians | Insurance Business America

Church Mutual experts share how non-profits can prepare beyond insurance coverage

Non-Profits & Charities

David Saric

As winter storm and weather events kick into full gear, more Americans will rely on churches, non-profits and schools for shelter from potentially unsafe conditions, and these institutions and organizations need to have thorough risk mitigation in place to be of service to vulnerable citizens.

“Coverage is just one piece of the puzzle,” said Pam Rushing (pictured left), Church Mutual’s CUO & president of subsidiaries. “The places have to maintain their proper general liability coverage in order to have the general public in their facilities but there’s not a general coverage that I can think of that they need to add to their policies to do this safely.”

Instead, what insurers need to stress to insureds through broker partners is that these organizations and institutions expect the unexpected by continually maintaining a properly functional facility that prioritizes general upkeep and safety.

“Appropriate maintenance throughout the year is very important and something that we would underwrite for as well,” said Eric Spacek (pictured right), Church Mutual assistant vice president of risk control. “Right now, that means protecting against freeze and particularly frozen pipes, as well as snow and ice removal.

“The number one cause of liability claims is slips and falls, and particularly in the snow and ice.”

During an interview with Insurance Business, Spacek and Rushing spoke about what why it is important to set up an overall emergency plan in advance of extreme winter weather and winter storm conditions and some risk mitigation policies and procedures that may go unnoticed but should be emphasized.

Higher civilian expectations necessitate more thorough preparedness for shelter providers like churches when facing winter storm events

According to a recent survey from Church Mutual, severe weather events are top of mind for Americans who have experienced the impacts of Arctic air and polar vortex activity.

Eighty-two percent of respondents feel that shelter providers should prepare in advance for severe weather events as membership and patrons are likely to look to religious institutions such as churches (60%), schools (63%) or nonprofit facilities (62%) for shelter.

Eighty-four percent of Americans felt that they would be impacted if a house of worship, school or nonprofit they rely on could not provide services due to severe weather’s effect on the facility.

Most shockingly, 90% believe their organizations’ facilities are less prepared for another polar vortex winter storm event, especially as more states experience worrying wintry conditions that can leave many Americans vulnerable.

In response to these numbers and concerns, Spacek stressed the importance of insurance professionals working with insureds to get an emergency plan in place to be able to deal with an influx of civilians during inclement weather.

“This goes beyond just checklists about the facility, such as having the right amount of salt to mend icy surfaces or having working pipes,” he said.  “Rather, it’s about having an emergency communication plan between staff, volunteers and members in case of a storm.

“It’s also important to be mindful of foreseeable scenarios or risks such as proper food handling procedures when providing meals or how to ensure adequate staffing and security on site.”

Church Mutual’s Spacek suggests churches, schools, non-profits reach out to the American Red Cross on winter preparedness

Outside of advice from insurers or brokers, non-profits, churches and schools can also seek guidance from the American Red Cross to certify organizations looking to provide shelter during winter storm and freeze events.

“We definitely recommend that they reach out to the American Red Cross since they can designate or certify shelters and they have a host of information about doing that,” Spacek said. “Availing themselves to those resources and becoming a Red Cross shelter if they can be also enables a sharing of liability in that instance.”

Some shelter risks that may fly under-the-radar, Church Mutual cautions

Rushing noted that most weather phenomena do not come as a surprise anymore, especially as advanced monitoring systems can spot troubling loss events before they happen.

With this information available sometimes a week out, it can give churches, schools and non-profits to prepare their premises if they plan on sheltering civilians.

However, some risks can fly under-the-radar, with Spacek pointing out how many of these organizations are not equipped for overnight occupancy.

“Having the right space and supervision is important, especially if any violent brawls break out between those who are using the space,” he said.  “They also have to be mindful of any families that are seeking shelter, as they will need to be sectioned off and avoid other adults getting mixed in amongst them.”

Elsewhere, Spacek noted how some may even overlook something as simple as slips and falls, which is the number one cause of claims for sheltering facilities.

“Thinking through all the scenarios that can happen within that environment that they may not be used to gets back to the importance of reaching out to these organizations and offering advice from an insurance perspective to ensure all around safety,” Rushing said.

Do you have any preparedness tips for school, churches, and non-profits gearing up to shelter people in winter storm events? Leave a comment below.

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