I’m approaching this from the viewpoint of Church Security. A lot of the same things I discuss here can be applied to schools, day care centers, workplace, night clubs, and so on.
I approach Church Security as a ministry. While everyone is in a worship service, it is our job to make sure they can praise God in a safe setting.
With that in mind, let’s start with the worst case scenario. Someone, for whatever reason, thinks it would be great idea to walk into your place of worship and start shooting people. Now according to the news, this happens often. Someone walks into a church or someplace where a lot of people are gathered and starts shooting.
The good news is that the probability of that happening is very low. We hear about it so much because bad news sells.
Now the bad news. No matter how low the chance, it still could happen.
But there’s a million things more apt to happen, and the possibility of them happening are higher. While we plan for an active shooter, we also need to think about the more mundane things that could and probably would happen.
We call this is a “Risk Assessment.” We look at what has happened, play Devil’s advocate, and break down the chances it could happen to us. Here’s a few that are more apt to occur than active shooters.
- Medical Emergency – People represent a wide spectrum of diverse health statistics. We have people who are perfectly healthy. Then we have epileptics, diabetics, people with bad hearts, and so on. So what’s the chance we’ll have someone have a heart attack in the middle of a service? Well, they’re pretty good. So one of the plans we have to have is for a medical emergency. Things we need to address is how to get everyone to stay steted. A small core team should already be identified who will take care of the person till help arrives. Security and ushers then give that team, and the responding EMTs, space to get in and out. We will discuss communications later, but that’s vital if we intend to to have an effective response and keep this individual alive.
- Fire – We normally don’t think that a fire is likely during a service, but it could happen. Again, we need to plan ahead of time how we’re getting people out, and where they’ll go. One thing you’ll want to do is coordinate with the fire department beforehand so we know how they’re responding. An example is that we once did a fire evacuation plan for a school. They wanted their students to evac to a certain area. A really good idea till the fire chief pointed out that’s where his fire engines were going to be rolling into and set up. So since little kids and big massive fire trucks aren’t a good mix, we had to figure out a safer place to put them.
- One of the things that’s a wrinkle for church security, and possibly even work places, is daycare. If we have to evac the building, how do we get the kids out, where do they go, and how do we maintain accountability? We’re fairly computerized, but that said, we’ve learned that there’s a place for a clipboard with information on it at every service (child, parents, and etc).
- Communications is key here because oftentimes we don’t have the luxury of practicing with a live congregation. So we rehearse this scenario constantly. We also include, once a quarter in our church bulletin, where and how to evac. Where children will be taken, and so on. One thing we try to stress is if we evac for fire, don’t go to your cars and try to leave. You’ll endanger people trying to leave the facility to a safe area, and probably get creamed by a responding fire truck. Twice a year, we talk about it from the pulpit.
- One vitally important thing is a final sweep. Some folks feel the pastor should be the last one out (captain is the last to leave the ship). I argue differently. In a bad situation, the pastor is vitally important. If nothing else to serve as a rally point. In our plan, Security, AFTER having done a final sweep through the building, and if it’s safe to have done so, is the last out.
- A means to identify people. Ushers, Wellness Team, and Security all wear lanyards with their name and department on it.
- Disruptive individuals – I’m not talking about someone with a weapon, but say some one who does something that just disrupts the service. Oftentimes, the disruption can be so minor, most of the congregation might be unaware something odd is even happening. About two months ago, we had some drunk guy get up on stage, and try to take selfies with the Praise and Worship Team. Your plan needs to include how to handle such an event.
- Normally we go for deescalation. In our case, we just went up, talked to the guy for a few seconds and told him these people were working and he was keeping that from happening, and he could get his pictures after service. We got him off stage, and handed him over to the cop we hire at every service. He was soon cooling his heels at detox.
- One of the lessons we learned was keeping communications open with the ushers and greeters. They’re the first to see an individual coming in, and if the person smells of alcohol or acts intoxicated, they bring it to our attention. At the very least we can keep a close eye on them.
- Violent people – There’s a lot of reasons this can happen. A good example would be a non-custodial parent who shows up wanting to take the child. At that point, our job becomes one of defending the child. We draw a very clear line in a case like that and ask the person to leave. If they don’t, they get arrested by the officer in attendance, or by officers called to the church. If the person threatens physical violence, we’ve trained to hold the line. If he tries to force it, we will defend ourselves. Some of us carry pepper spray, others collapsible batons. Some of us are good in a fight. The idea is to avoid that, but be ready if you have to. That’s why most of the people on the team come from either an emergency response or military background. In short, the people we have know what to do after we’ve turned the other cheek.
- People who don’t think – Let’s be honest about it. Sometimes people do things without thinking. A good example was the guy who walked in with a pistol in a holster on his hip. We call this “open carry” and in most cases that’s perfectly legal. Problem is that can unnerve some folks. In our case, we checked him out. We talked with him and found he wasn’t some random nut. He was a new to the area, an off duty police officer from another town and was looking for a church. He let us secure the weapon for him so people wouldn’t be nervous. He and his family now attend our church, and he carries concealed.
- The main thing with a potentially disruptive person is oftentimes just being aware of them. Try not to make a bad situation worse, but be ready for it to go sideways. Parker’s Law states that criminals do things because they think they’ll get away with it. If they know that isn’t going to happen, most of the time they’ll behave themselves.
- Active shooter-This is an area we could stay on for days, and I’m going to cover it later in the series.
In all the scenarios mentioned above, communications is paramount. We have several radios scattered out at different locations such as Children’s Church, the Daycare Center, and so on. You’ll hear me say this again, but the radio is useless if no one monitors it, or it’s placed where people can’t get to it easily. Ideally it should be on a person’s hip or belt, with the volume turned up. Always do a radio check before services just to confirm everything is working correctly. After all, it’s not uncommon for the volume to be turned down to nothing, or be on the wrong channel. They become our first, best line of communications and they need to be in working order.
There’s definitely other areas you’ll want to plan for. One we plan for is weather related incidents, especially tornadoes. Security officers have a weather app on our phone so we’re alerted for events and have worked out how to warn people, and get them to shelter. For most of us, that means sheltering in place. if you have a place you can take people, then you need to figure out how to get them there.
Next time we talk more about communications.