Winter 2013/ 2014
Vol. 4  No. 1
Two firemen work to extinguish a building fire
Emergencies Can Happen Anywhere, Any Time


of the

United Methodist

 Disability Connection


Greetings in Christ!    


The winter issue comes a little late as many of you are getting ready to experience spring. Committee leaders have been busy preparing for the UMW Mission u disability study and writing articles for the May/June New World Outlook issue on disability.  We hope you will enroll in the study and read the issue when it comes out - we think you will enjoy both.


When local churches plan for emergencies, people with disabilities are not always considered. The articles this month will help you understand why this oversight is dangerous, and prompt you to review your congregation's plans. Be sure to include one or more people who have disabilities on your planning team to contribute insights and information gleaned from years of having to solve problems on a daily basis.


Special thanks to Naomi Mitchum of Houston and Tim Vermande of Indianapolis for contributing the articles in this issue.  If you are interesting in writing for us, download the Author's Guide and get in touch with us via the Committee e-mail address


Lynn Swedberg, Editor

In This Issue
Include Disabilities in Your Emergency Plan
How Evacuation and Indoor Shelter Impact Persons with Disabilities
Emergency-prepared Congregations are Ready for Outreach
Upcoming Events
Quick Links

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Include Disabilities in Your Church Emergency Plan  
One in five persons has a disability, so include us in your church/ campus emergency plans. You don't have a plan? Think an emergency or disaster will happen to someone else? Think again. Surprise! You are on shelter in place because of toxic air, and the crowd is panicked. Surprise! There's a fire in the church basement, and two people in wheelchairs are trapped there. Surprise! A tornado is circling overhead and no one knows where to
Sanctuary with water utp to the seat level of pews
Flooding in Belmar, NJ, UMC, photo courtesy of Eugene Chamberlin
hide. Surprise! A broken water main is flooding a youth Sunday School room, and everyone is standing on chairs.
You need a plan. Now. Start with prayer. The job is less formidable if you break it down into stages:
Phase 1: Recruit a committee.
Phase 2: Gather information
Phase 3: Create a working plan
Phase 4: Educate the congregation

Phase 1: Recruit a Committee
Begin with an emergency planning group, including persons with disabilities, to develop a workable long-term design for how to deal with emergencies.

Chapelwood United Methodist Church in Houston, Texas asked for volunteers to serve on such a committee, and in response got volunteers who had a passion for this work, plus several who had been involved in emergency preparations at their companies. The church director of special needs ministry, who works from a power wheelchair, was also on the committee. The committee defined what it would do, intentionally planning to serve persons with functional challenges.

Phase 2: Gather Information
After defining goals, gather general information as well as how disabilities impact evacuation. (See article below.) Pray together. Let each committee member research one or two of the following areas and report back to the committee. 
  • The location of utility turn offs, inaccessible emergency exits, fire walls and doors, equipment to transport persons with impaired mobility on stairs, oxygen, AED (Automated External Defibrillator) and who knows how to use it.
  • The names of persons in the congregation with special needs and information about mobility concerns, seizures, meltdowns, and communication skills. This is confidential information that may not always be available and needs to be kept in a locked cabinet.
  • The names of persons who can act as escorts to a person with a disability.
  • The names of church home visitors who are in contact with individuals who are homebound. Will the committee deal with them directly or go through their supervisor? If there are no home visitors, consider recruiting some. See attached article for more information on setting up a program.
  • Availability of emergency communication devices to alert and direct people. Will there be a projected announcement in the sanctuary, verbal announcements over a public address system, campus alarm bells, and/ or phone tree calls to leaders in other parts of the building?  If the power is off, who is designated to carry the message? What are the options if cell phone service is disrupted? 

Phase 3: Create a Working Plan
After sharing information from Phase 2, it is time to draft a plan and prioritize what will be done immediately and what is to be done later. There will be a written plan of facilities as well as a plan for best ways to interact with persons with disabilities. For future work, the committee may choose members who will focus on indoor emergencies and those who will specialize in evacuation.

Red backpack containing AED and emergency supplies hangs on wall
Emergency kit

Post-emergency immediate care is a very important time for persons with disabilities. Decide who stays with individuals or groups after the emergency and who gets names of injured taken away by ambulance. Assemble a list of qualified church-member counselors to aid after the trauma.

To help with best rescue interaction, committee members at Chapelwood UMC were given a copy of Quick Look for Volunteer Responders, A Guide for Aiding Persons with Disabilities (see Resources) that contains detailed descriptions of ways to help evacuate anyone with a disability.


At this stage, the Chapelwood UMC committee focused on Sunday morning worship in the sanctuary which helped them develop a plan for how to sound an alarm, how to evacuate, how to handle a shelter in place or lockdown and how to aid persons with disabilities in each of these scenarios. Because Chapelwood is a three story, sprawling building, the

Woman assisting a man down stairs using special chair
Evacuation chair in use

committee purchased two different types of evacuation chairs to get persons with mobility problems up and down stairs. An evacuation plan was devised for each area of the church, taking into consideration the location of fire walls and fire doors  - doors that slam shut when a fire or other alarm sounds. An evacuation plan was posted inside each room of the church.


Note that if there is no money to buy evacuation chairs or slings you can consult your local fire department regarding carrying techniques. 


An important last step is establishing the chain of command. One person gives the orders, but a substitute must be designated and available.

After plans are finalized, assemble ushers, administrative personnel and other leaders to try out the emergency plans so the plans may be revised if needed.

Phase 4: Educate the Congregation
Help the congregation get a mental picture of emergency safety and how to accomplish it, and encourage people to become aware of persons with disabilities who need assistance.


Chapelwood UMC accomplished this through the church newsletter and website, announcements from the pulpit, equipment demonstrations, and a run-through using projected slides during Sunday morning worship services. Parents were reassured that their children would be safely evacuated, and told that they cannot go to rescue them.

Helping each other is a mandate from God. Disaster may be just around the corner, but with careful planning, you can have peace of mind. Get ready! 



Submitted by Naomi Mitchum, Chapelwood UMC, Houston, TX


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How Evacuation and Indoor Shelter Impact          Persons with Disabilities
Head usher, Mr. Garcia, stepped to the microphone and gave orders for evacuation while the slides projected on the screen in the front of the sanctuary provided the same information. Most persons remained calm and followed directions, but there were several with physical or cognitive challenges who could not see, hear or process the directions. Others could not move without assistance. This scene could have happened in any church. Here are some theoretical examples:

Grant and his friends in wheelchairs are caught in the crowd and are unintentionally pushed and shoved. Because speed was important, Grant was rescued without his
Persons with varying disabilities are assisted from building. Fire truck is in background
Evacuation: FEMA News Photo
wheelchair.  A team of four trained volunteers hurried to him and his friends, and used slings and regular chairs to carry them outdoors. Outside the building, those evacuated are placed next to a concrete planter wall so they will not get trampled, and a volunteer stays with them. Grant is later reunited with his chair, since he had identification on it.

Fred is visually impaired, so cannot read directions including a posted evacuation route in his Sunday school room. He cannot see barriers which prevent his moving quickly out of the building. Because the church has provided training in awareness of how to help people with vision loss, a passerby volunteers to escort him from the building.

Charlene has a cognitive disability and cannot read or process spoken directions. A mentor from her Sunday school class stays with her during the emergency. When sheltered in place, the mentor provides diversion activities along with a snack. If it were a lockdown, the mentor knows to lead her to a safe, quiet place and to reassure her to prevent panic.

Ivan is Deaf. Shouting will not help. A nearby member touches him  on the shoulder to
Tornado at sunset
Tornado: FEMA News Photo
make himself known. He writes "There is a tornado warning. My name is Mike. I will help you to safety." He sends a text to the sign language interpreter once in the safety zone in the basement. He stays with Ivan until someone fluent in sign language arrives.

During a recent power outage, Angel opened her cell phone to provide light before anyone panicked. A rescuer soon came into the room, reassured the group and told everyone to rotate using their phones to conserve batteries.

Manuel, who suffers from a panic disorder, was relieved when an usher offered her arm and lead him to a quiet place away from flashing lights. She sat with him until an "all clear" was sounded.

Teaching the congregation about these issues will make everyone safer and may cut the stress and panic quotient, prevent seizures* and meltdowns^. This knowledge may save lives. Awareness training will also create a church where people enjoy new friends who are willing to trust each other.


Petit mal seizures include head drop, stiffness and sighs.  Grand mal includes shaking, jerky muscles and possible loss of consciousness.  Stress may bring on a seizure, and the person seizing should not be moved.  Stay with the person and prevent injury.   


In an emergency, use calming, affirmative, not-repeated directions to avoid meltdown of persons who become agitated. An in dividual may become hyper-vigilant, clingy, or may cry or begin repetitive actions. Stress and sensory overload can trigger these reactions. Remove flashing lights, do not shout and assign one person to help a person with problems.

For more information, consult Quick Look for Volunteer Emergency Responders - see Resource section.

Submitted by Naomi Mitchum, Chaplewood UMC, Houston, TX. 


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Emergency-prepared Congregations are Ready for Community Disaster Outreach

Emergencies and disasters take many forms, and can happen at any time and anywhere. Quick response to a medical emergency can save a life. Teaching members what to do in a fire expresses an holistic concern that reflects John Wesley's own life experiences, as well
Fire fighters and others stand outside burned church; 2 fire engines are still present
Aftermath of fire at Northwood-Appold UMC, Baltimore - Photo by Erik Alsgaard; courtesy of the Baltimore-Washington Conference
as his emphasis on social holiness. In a disaster, local resources can be overwhelmed, as people saw in the days after Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, as well as during a current winter of extreme conditions. At such times, the skills acquired by those who work in disability ministries can be an asset and witness to the community.

As a sign of God's love, churches can be prepared to act in these events, and provide material and spiritual resources. At the local level, United Methodist churches, located in small towns and large cities across the county, are well-suited to assist their communities. As churches do this, they can also advocate for those who are often overlooked in planning, especially people with various disabilities.

A basic level of preparedness is first aid, which should include CPR and AED (automated defibrillator) training. The American Red Cross is the leading agency providing this. The
Cabinet with AED inside
An AED belongs in your church
basic course focuses on activating local emergency medical systems and simple steps to stabilize victims. While it includes some disabilities, such as recognizing the effects of diabetic conditions, it does not address many concerns that may arise from disabilities, such as a person with autism, or Deafness. Those who encounter people with disabilities, which should include church volunteers, would want to pursue additional instruction.

A second level begins with reaching out in local settings.  Community Emergency Response Teams (CERT) provide quick, local response to disasters. Churches can organize teams, as well as provide spaces where groups can train and meet. Many CERTs actively recruit people with disabilities or who are Deaf to participate in their training.

Also at this level, churches can consider opening their facilities in times of need. An event can range from a power outage that forces people out of their homes to destruction of homes and other buildings. Use of a church as a shelter usually requires prearrangement,  usually done through the Red Cross or a local county emergency management agency.

In all of this, churches should also be advocates for people with disabilities, whose needs can be easily overlooked in the press of competing and rushed activity. Congregations can offer preparedness classes to members and the community. The United Methodist Committee on Deaf and Hard of Hearing Ministries website has links to information about preparing emergency notices, obtaining a weather hazards radio, smoke alarms, and other topics. The Disability Ministries Committee has an article on planning for emergencies involving people with disabilities.

To go further, the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) is well-known for its global response to disasters, providing short and long-term assistance. For information about UMCOR Disaster Response, see their website.

Submitted by Tim Vermande, Webmaster for the UM Committees on DisAbility and Deaf and Hard of Hearing Ministries. 

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Upcoming Events 

April 25-26, 2014       Dis-Ability: Practicing Inclusion                                 Louisville, KY


Join Committee chair Sharon McCart and consultant Lynn Swedberg for a workshop at the UMW Assembly 2014 gathering.  Stop by our booth, too, and share your stories with us. 


May 8-9, 2014          The Fullness of Christ: A Church for All People       Tipp City, OH


Featuring Marva J. Dawn, William C. "Bill" Gaventa, Barbara J. Newman, Jeremy Schipper, and Mike Slaughter, with additional break out sessions to help equip clergy and laity to be faithful in ministry with people with disabilities.  Early registration discount ends soon! 

Sponsored by United Theological Seminary. For more information see the Light the Fire website.  


May 15, 2014  Beyond the Ramp: Treat Me as a Member, Not a Mission  Portland,OR 


Bill Gaventa is the keynote speaker; eight workshops expand the theme.  Find information and download a brochure at the Interfaith Disabilities Network of Oregon website.  


June 16-20, 2014     Summer Institute on Theology and Disability            Dallas, TX


"Caring Theologically and Thinking Pastorally: Disability as a Critical Question and Questioner."  Plenaries by Amos Yong, Helen Betenbaugh, Jamie Clark-Soles, Stanley Hauerwas and others plus sessions by Institute faculty.  Friday is a stand-alone day for local participants to join.  Find more information and register at the Bethesda Institute website .     


Summer/ Fall 2014 and 2015         Mission u                    Every US Annual Conference


Sponsored by United Methodist Women, Disability and the Church: Awareness, Accessibility, and Advocacy is one of the study topics this year and next.   Many Committee and Association of Ministers with Disabilities members are leaders for the course.  You don't have to be a UMW member to participate, and men are welcome, too.  This is a great opportunity for disability awareness training for your conference. Spread the word!  


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Centers for Disease Control: Disability and Health - Emergency Preparedness 

Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA): Including People with Disabilities & Others with Access & Functional Needs in Disaster Operations - 2 hour online independent study course.  

FEMA and American Red Cross:  Preparing for Disaster for People with Disabilities and other Special Needs, downloadable information booklet (available in multiple formats) on planning and preparation.   

The Mobility Resource: 7 Positions CERTS with Disabilities Can Serve When Disaster Strikes  

National Organization on Disability: Emergency Preparedness 

The National Preparedness Community: Listing of Resources for Faith Based Organizations includes organizations from many states. 

Texas A & M University: Tips for First Responders Ways to assist people with various functional needs including persons with multiple chemical sensitivity, those using a service animal, and other typical categories of disability.  

University of Kansas Research and Training Center on Independent Living: Nobody Left Cover of Community Disaster Preparedness: Nobody Left Behind with thumbnail drawings of 6 common disaster types Behind: Disaster Preparedness for Persons with Mobility Impairments .  Includes tools, checklists of "dos and don'ts," training modules, and links to many other organizations and publications.  

UM Disability Pinterest site: Disasters and Disability.   Links to a variety of websites and blogs.  Includes disaster-specific materials including fire, tornado, and severe weather.

US Department of Justice: Making Community Emergency Preparedness Programs Accessible to People with Disabilities.  Illustrated ADA guide available on-line or for downloading (PDF file).   


Disability Inclusive Disaster Risk Management - downloadable (PDF file) booklet published by CBM for global use.  Focuses on how persons with disabilities are active participants in disaster risk reduction interventions.

Cover of Quick Look, illustrated with a button with the universal access logo Quick Look for Volunteer Emergency Responders, A Guide for Aiding Person with  Disabilities (2012, Ramps n Things Press, Houston) by Naomi Mitchum. Waterproof, lightweight, and designed for easy use during emergencies.  Provides simple tips for communicating with and supporting persons with a variety of disabilities.   


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We hope that you never experience a major disaster, but if you do, we hope and pray that you will have implemented some of the measures you learned about in reading this issue.  Two of our committee members have recent firsthand experiences with disasters, reminding us that they happen everywhere. Please raise the awareness of others in your community and conference, and share your plans and successes with us. Held in the palm of God's hand, we are more secure when we work together in community to protect all of us in our vulnerabilities. 


DisAbility Ministries Committee of The United Methodist Church 

logo for UMCOR with UM cross and flame

Contact us through the Committee email address.