I’ve gotten a few questions over the last few months about church security. The subject of church security is multifaceted and unique to every building and congregation. If you don’t currently have an emergency plan in place at your church, then consider this article as a place to start to develop your own course of action. Please do your own research before you draw up a plan.
This will be a bare bones look into where you need to start building your church safety team for a violent incident like an active shooter.
Note: I’m using the word church, but these concepts are applicable to all houses of worship.
Step 1: Surveillance
Preventing any sort of trouble needs to be the top priority of any church safety team. You don’t want to be caught off guard, or right of bang, when someone starts trouble in your building. Proper surveillance starts in the parking lot. Try to see any potential trouble before it makes it in the door. Safety team members can be assigned to entrances and greet members in a friendly way all the while looking for signs of potential trouble.
What the church safety team needs to be looking for is anything that deviates from the norm. If the safety team is composed of long-time church members then they will be able to intuitively see people, situations and objects that are different. Just because something may be different doesn’t mean it’s a threat, it simply needs further investigation.
Here’s a real life example I experienced. One Sunday morning I sat with my wife in the balcony of our large sanctuary. After the service began a lone man entered wearing sunglasses and carrying a shoulder bag. He seated himself and waited about a minute longer to take off his glasses. That’s not typical of our congregation, he stood out from the norm.
After a few moments of observation I determined he wasn’t a threat, just someone who perhaps wasn’t use to being in church, maybe even nervous. I believe he joined our church after a few weeks of regular attendance. In fact I saw him this past Sunday smiling and shaking hands with those around him.
If you are unable to see a threat before he or she makes their first move, you are then left with the following response steps that need to be executed simultaneously.
Step 2: Evacuate
When something goes bang, designated team members need to act to evacuate as many people as possible and aid them in their escape. This should happen everywhere at once, even if you are away from the threat. Get as many people out as you can as quickly as possible.
Step 3: Get Help
At least two safety team members need to be responsible for reporting the violent situation to law enforcement. What you don’t want is for the emergency call center to be flooded with 100 calls all telling a different story. While you may not be able to control what your church members do in a crisis, you can plan to have two team members give out the correct information.
The security team members need to tell 911 at least the following:
1 The address of the church
2 The type of incident
3 Known information about the bad actor(s)
4 Any known injuries
5 Inform them if safety team members are armed
Step 4: Respond
Notice the step is not “react”. To react is to make on the fly decisions. In this case, responding is executing a planned course of action. Your safety team may be composed of law enforcement who are trained to take care of these situations and are legally armed. If that is the case, look to them for guidance in developing a tactical response. Team members tasked with responding should not be expected to risk bodily harm or death without the proper tools to be successful.
Now that you have a basic understanding for what should happen in the event of a violent attack on your church property, you can begin planning and recruiting team members. Make sure you reach out to local law enforcement for a security assessment of your property. This type of assessment may open your eyes to security risks you may never have considered. It’s always good to have another perspective to consider.
Hire Law Enforcement
You may be a small church and don’t have enough people to recruit for a safety team. Many local police departments and sheriff’s offices allow off duty officers to make extra money to work as a law enforcement presence at churches, local events and gatherings. You may consider hiring off-duty law enforcement to be present during church events, especially if you can’t create a safety team of your own. The presence of law enforcement is a significant deterrent. This may be the best one step solution to your church’s needs.
Also make sure to check out the Guide for Developing High-Quality Emergency Operations Plans for Houses of Worship on FEMA’s website. I was given this guide at my last FBI led situational awareness training for houses of worship. This can help you understand the details involved in making plans and assessing needs.
Here of late there seems to be a public disgust for the term “thoughts and prayers”. Some people think that the government needs some sort of action and that prayer is not enough. This is seen as some sort of an excuse instead of a heartfelt expression.
Prayer works. Prayer IS action. Continue to pray for your congregation, your church, your community and our world as a whole. Pray that your local schools will be kept safe and that those who wish to harm the innocent will be brought to justice before they can act. Pray for law enforcement to have the information they need to stop bad actors before they harm anyone. Pray for peace. Pray that God’s love would be made known to all.
For more information on family protection and home security, consider The Secure Dad Newsletter.
To return to the main page, click here.