Firefighter at fire
Riot Police on horse back

Chaplains are out in the community, whether it be local shopping centres, theatres, sport sites, or businesses. They will often have a relationship and contacts with local churches or faith leaders, local police and the local council.  Chaplains are well placed to be able to adapt to an unexpected situation or disaster that affects the community that they provide chaplaincy for very quickly. It could be a burst watermain bringing long term effects for local business, it could be a fire that causes major damage, it could be a terrorist attack, or even a pandemic as we have seen in 2020/2021.

Our instinct as chaplains to be involved with our community, supporting and caring for them. However, often it will be a while before we are allowed anywhere near the major incident site. Depending on the incident it might also be a crime scene. There are other things chaplains can do.

There are four basic stages to an incident no matter how large or small. These are:

  1. INCIDENT is declared
  2. ACTIVATION – Planning what kind of response is needed
  3. RESPONSE – putting into action any chaplaincy response plans however limited
  4. RECOVERY – responding after the incident has finished – this is generally the key area that chaplains will be involved in and continue long after the incident has officially finished, this stage could go on for days, or weeks, or even months, depending on the impact of the major incident.

Depending on where the incident occurred, there will be a person or a team of people whose job it is to activate any response plans. It is worth knowing who these are. In the local community it will be the Emergency Planning Officer (EPO) in the local council, they are your first point of contact to discover if they need help, what kind of help and when. There may already be a network in place of church and faith leaders, who are the local contacts for the EPO or Police. Often people are needed to help out at rest centres, if people have been evacuated from their homes or small businesses, rather than on the front line.

For a chaplaincy team to be major incident ready there are a number of things they can have ready in advance.

  • Foster good relationships and networks with those whose responsibility it is coordinate the response to a major incident, so if an incident happens you already know the lines of communication. Who would be your first phone call when a major incident is declared?
  • Communication is important, ensure you always have up to date contact details for all the chaplaincy team, and where possible for all the retail outlets and businesses the team visits.
  • It is worth compiling a brief major incident pack for all the team, either soft or hard copies.

Suggestions for the contents of a ‘Major Incident Pack’

  • Up to date list of contact details for each chaplain
  • List of phone numbers, e.g., local EPO, Police chaplain, if retail mall, then centre manager, local church and faith leaders. Who does the team need to be in contact with? Who do individual chaplains need to be in contact with?
  • If possible, collate a list of contact numbers/e-mails for those in the area the chaplaincy team visits.
  • If there is a chaplaincy Board of trustees – then they will need to be kept up to date
  • List of suitable websites and contact numbers for the following ie. Local council, Local transport, NHS, Environmental Agency, BBC News, Sky News, Reuters, Bloomberg, local hospitals, Police stations, GP surgery etc. As you may need this information.
  • Details of all local bus routes which go through your area in case of evacuation is needed.
  • List of items to take if called out- e.g. paper, pen, sanitizing hand gel, torch, phone charging adapter, medication if on regular meds – as you don’t know how long a shift might be once chaplains are called out to help.
  • Pray

The most important thing to remember if a major incident occurs on your chaplaincy patch is – DO NOT GO, until invited too, and if called restrict your activities to those assigned to you by the person/team responsible for managing the incident. Remember never put yourself or colleagues lives at risk.

Once the incident is over and have moved to the recovery stage, this often when chaplains will continue pastoral care of those directly (if appropriate) and indirectly affected by it. Be prepared for however long this needed, days, weeks or in some cases months.