One of the more challenging security dilemmas is securing places of worship. Attendees come to these places with their minds on spiritual matters. With that, they are normally facing away from the main entrance and focusing on a pastor or worship leader.
Is it a real problem?
- November 2017: 26 killed, 1st Baptist Church, Southerland, TX
- September 2017: 1 killed, 6 wounded Burnette Chapel Church of Christ, Antioch, TN
- June 2015: 9 killed, Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, Charleston, SC
- September 2013: Pastor killed, Tabernacle of Praise Worship Center, Lake Charles, LA
- July 2008: 2 killed, Valley Unitarian Universalist Church, Knoxville, TN
- December 2007: 4 killed in two attacks by same gunman, Youth with a Mission, Colorado Springs, CO, New Life Church, Arvada, CO
Yes, there is a real problem. The above references are only a few pulled from headlines. Most events never make the news.
How can churches cope with the issue of violence? By careful planning and some sacrifices by the congregation.
“Security and worship can be successfully blended for those who worship in your facility. No house of worship (HOW), whether a church, mosque, temple, or synagogue is exempt from crime, whether committed by an internal member, a stranger, or as a random act of terrorism. We must consider threats and be ready to respond in a quick, efficient, and effective manner.”
—ASIS Houses of Worship Committee
Picture this: you walk into a megachurch and find great music and preaching. Not once did violence cross your mind. You didn’t notice the armed guards, undercover, sitting around the congregation or roving the parking lot. You didn’t notice the elaborate camera system monitored in a control center.
Sounds great right? Okay, back to reality.
Most churches cannot afford a dedicated guard force and 24/7 monitoring of camera systems. The smaller churches can follow the lead of the megachurches and learn from them. These churches employ security committees to review trends and historical data to develop security protocols inside a budget and integrated into the culture of the congregation.
Can medium to small churches do the same? Yes. Planning before implementing protocols should be the norm. Unfortunately, most places of worship do not plan. They ask a deacon to do his best with a few dollars. A camera here, an alarm there. Oh, and this guy and that lady are police officers, so they will be armed. And that’s the plan.
This is not a good way to secure church members and visitors. A committee, led by someone with a security background, will pay off if a violent event occurs. If you do not have a security professional in your congregation, hire a security consultant. A security professional will save you thousands of dollars in the long-run.
“Appoint a security leader to oversee and coordinate safety compliance and security planning. If the Security Leader has no security or law enforcement background, make sure they reach out to local law enforcement and get acquainted.”
–American Society of Industrial Security
Do you allow church members to be armed? Do they have their concealed carry permit? What could go wrong? Have your gun carrying members been trained in the use of force? How about shooting under stress around innocent people?
These are questions to consider before arming your congregation to the teeth. If a violent event occurs, armed citizens need to know when to shoot and where to shoot. Rarely, do church security teams, especially the voluntary forces, train with firearms. A quarterly training program will reduce, not eliminate, poor decision making and poor marksmanship during a crisis.
What about medical training? This goes beyond just training for an active shooter event. Part of protection involves providing first aid for church goers. People come into the building with a myriad of medical conditions, unknown to the leadership team. This is not a problem the security team is normally prepared for. Training in first aid, to include automated external defibrillators (AED), and coordination with first responders are critical.
A church member with security training or a security consultant can help with this training. Integrate training into your overall security plan.
“Train in security protocols. Consider including the ushers and greeters for the training. Conduct evacuation drills and/or table top training with staff and volunteers.”
–American Society of Industrial Security
So, we should install bullet proof doors and lock the church down during service correct? Not at all. But you can do smart things that cost little to harden your building. Reducing entrances, ideally to one, limits options for a gunman. Most churches are old buildings with many additions. These additions act as Sunday school rooms, fellowship halls, and offices. Isolate each space to one entrance. Place cameras on these areas so they can be watched by the security team during worship and special events.
Consider a safe area for church leadership. Often, attackers target the pastor, or the person perceived as the pastor.
Utilize the “command center” concept. This means you use a reception desk at the main entrance. A member of your security team should man this desk. They can greet guests as they arrive and monitor cameras. From this central location, the security team can respond to threats quickly and notify authorities.
The Security Team
Deter, Delay, Defeat
Deter-if potential attackers know a security team is in place, they will probably move to a softer target. You do not have to advertise “We have guns” all over the church. Subtle communications notifying the congregants of security team recruiting and meetings will suffice.
Delay-this occurs after an attacker is identified. The goal is to mitigate an attacker’s intentions outside the building. Isolating to one observable entrance and a roving guard helps identify incidents outside the main place of worship.
Defeat-this is when the morning has gone bad and an attack is underway. The churchgoers should follow the active shooter procedure of run, hide, or fight. The security team, if selected properly, will fight, reduce the threat, notify authorities, provide order, and begin first aid.
How do you select security team members? Look for special skills. A military or police background helps. An emergency medicine background is even better. In any case, look for members that are likely to have longevity in the church. The key characteristics are a willingness to learn, train, and be present on a voluntary basis.
“Being proactive and seeking out preventive measures are the best ways to protect not only a church and house of worship, but the congregation, and training could be all the difference in a life-altering situation. It takes the entire community to really make a difference. Respect the fact that it’s a church or house of worship, but security measures still need to be in place.”
With most churches operating on a tight budget, security programs are often assembled ad-hoc. This leads to increased spending in areas of physical security that may or may not achieve desired results.
There are experts in congregations that can lead and assist with security program implementation at little or no costs. If the church can afford it, a security consultant will more than pay for the retainer fee over time.
Here are some things to remember:
- Violent crime occurs on a sporadic basis in places of worship. Churches must plan for a violent event, even if the likelihood of an event is low.
- Proper planning saves money and provides a more secure place of worship. Always start with a written plan before implementing protocols.
- Physical barriers are critical to avoid and reduce casualties during active shooter incidents. Attempt to isolate entrance points to one or compartmentalize churches with multiple buildings.
- Training is the key to making a security plan successful. Integrate training into the security plan and execute on a regular basis.
- Select security team members that have specialized training. The key characteristics of security team members are reliability and a willingness to learn.
We help places of worship secure their campuses. Contact us for a free consultation.