What the Solar Eclipse Means for Your Church
For the first time since 1979, the United States will experience a total solar eclipse on August 21, 2017, meaning that the moon will completely cover the sun for a period of time that day. While everyone in the contiguous U.S. will be able to see at least a partial eclipse on August 21, residents in parts of 14 states will be in the “path of totality,” as NASA puts it, a ribbon 70 miles wide where a total solar eclipse will be visible. This will begin at 9:05 a.m. PDT in Lincoln Beach, OR, and move across the U.S. from west to east until it concludes at 2:48 p.m. EDT in Charleston, SC. The total solar eclipse will be visible in parts of OR, ID, WY, MT, NE, IA, KS, MO, IL, KY, TN, GA, NC and SC as depicted in the image below:
What Does This Mean for Your Church?
Because of the rarity of the total solar eclipse, people are traveling to areas within the “path of totality” and eclipse watch parties are being planned. If your church’s property lies in the path of the total eclipse, you will need to make decisions on how to handle eclipse-related gatherings.
First, you must decide if you will open your property to eclipse-watchers. If yes, read on. If not, then your church may want to secure access to the property in some way, whether with cones, tape, signs or some combination of those items.
Second, if you decide to open church property to eclipse-watchers, you will then need to decide if you will allow people to stay overnight in preparation for the eclipse, or if you will limit access to the daytime during the eclipse itself. If you allow overnight occupancy, read on. If not, then again you should secure access to the church property during overnight hours.
Third, if your church decides to allow people to stay overnight, you need to determine if such overnight occupancy is permitted by local zoning, fire, health or other regulations. Some jurisdictions require a temporary certificate of occupancy for such purpose, or disallow the practice altogether.
Fourth, if your church property will be open to guests overnight and local regulations allow, the following safety and risk management considerations should be top of mind:
- Determine which part(s) of the property to open and restrict access to those parts that are not. For example, will you allow access to the parking lot but not the building? Into a part of a building but not another?
- If your building will be open or partially open to the “public,” secure appropriate supervision to ensure that only designated parts of the building are used. Consider signage, locked doors or other means to restrict access to areas of the building that your church does not wish to open up.
- Related to the above, determine how to handle restroom facilities: whether you open up your building for this purpose, provide kaibos or portable facilities, or do nothing. The latter option may not be allowed by state or local regulations and risks potential unpleasant consequences for your property.
- Consider how you will provide supervision and/or security for the parking lot and other areas where people will be staying overnight. You may wish to hire an outside security service for the safety and security of your guests, your volunteers and your building(s).
- Before the date of the event, complete a detailed inspection of the building and grounds, making sure that any potential hazards or defects are either corrected or appropriately marked off via cones, tape or other method of warning. Pay particular attention to exterior and interior walking surfaces to make sure they are in good condition, adequately lighted and kept free of slip, trip and fall hazards. Consider photographing or videotaping the pre-event condition of the premises for documentation purposes.
- Consider requiring people who come onto church premises to complete a guest registration form with their complete contact information and sign an appropriate waiver of liability form.
- Provide appropriate receptacles for the disposal of trash and recyclables.
- Establish rules for the event and prominently display them.
- Consider restricting the possession or use of alcohol, illegal drugs, alcohol or weapons while on your premises.
- Consider restricting the presence of animals or pets on the premises to bona fide service animals for the disabled.
- Encourage participants to be responsible for their own safety while viewing the eclipse. View safety tips here.
- Discuss the proposed event with your insurance agent or broker.
For further reading on the solar eclipse, visit NASA’s 2017 eclipse website.
© 2022 The GuideOne Center for Risk Management, LLC. All rights reserved.This material is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to give specific legal or risk management advice, nor are any suggested checklists or action plans intended to include or address all possible risk management exposures or solutions. You are encouraged to retain your own expert consultants and legal advisors in order to develop a risk management plan specific to your own activities.