Impact Feature Issue on Disaster Preparedness and People with Disabilities

Preparing for Pandemic Flu:
A Minneapolis Congregation’s First Steps


Bill Weir is a member of First Unitarian Society of Minneapolis and chair of its Committee on Emergency Preparedness. He is a retired minister with a Master’s in Healthcare Administration

In 2006, the First Unitarian Society of Minneapolis created a standing committee on emergency preparedness, which I chair. The committee believes that the principal threat for which most people are not prepared is a pandemic influenza outbreak, commonly called “bird flu” or “avian influenza.” Because of this concern, the task force has two main goals: 1) to protect the people in our First Unitarian Society community from the risk of bird flu, and 2) to explore ways to serve our members in the event of a bird flu pandemic. 

  • Our committee originated a Bird Flu E-mail Discussion List that has been publicized throughout our denomination as a place where participants can discuss how congregations and individual members can better prepare for a possible bird flu pandemic. It is also a place to share articles and information about pandemic influenza.

  • One of our members, Peter Raynor, who is also a professor of Public Health, has drafted a Pandemic Flu Planning Overview, which continues to be reviewed, updated and circulated for comment within our committee and to interested others via the e-mail discussion list. The overview identifies steps the congregation could take at each of five phases: 1) pre-pandemic (now), 2) circulating animal virus in state/region with potential human risk, 3) single or limited cases in humans in state or region with no human-to-human transmission, 4) single or limited cases in humans in the U.S. with low human-to-human transmission, and 5) widespread cases anywhere with high human-to-human transmission.

  • Members of our committee and congregation have participated in emergency preparedness activities in the wider community. For instance, we had a representative on the statewide advisory group for CodeReady, the public information campaign rolled out in May 2007 by the State and its many private-sector partners to improve readiness to cope with all hazards, including pandemic flu, throughout the state. Another member attended a conference titled “The Church and Pandemic Preparedness” hosted by Central Lutheran Church in Minneapolis, and reported back to our committee about the information shared.

  • Our committee has been in conversation with our congregation’s Caring Circles regarding how they can best work with our ministers in reaching out to help affected members of the congregation if a pandemic comes. Caring Circles is a group of people who are an adjunct to the minister in providing visits, phone calls, cards, transportation, and so on at times of loss and other types of life challenges.

  • We share information with the congregation on an ongoing basis about simple steps people can take to keep themselves and their neighbors in the congregation healthy during any cold and flu season, as well as year-round. We, for example, include in our congregation newsletter reminders to prevent the spread of colds and flu by covering your cough, washing hands regularly and thoroughly, and so forth.

It would take much more space to share the many more details on how congregations and their members with and without disabilities can prepare for and respond to a possible pandemic. We all hope a severe pandemic never comes, but expert scientists, especially epidemiologists, are concerned that it may come soon and may be devastating, especially to those who fail to prepare.

  • Hull, H. (2006). Avian flu is coming! Minnesota Medicine, 89. Retrieved from