Security Tips for Houses of Worship
1. Why is church security important?
Most of the time churches are considered easy “marks” for such things as fraud, larceny, burglary and a host of other crimes as they are viewed as required to turn the other cheek. Churches are often at the forefront of community help programs and can find themselves understaffed or staffed with volunteers. A lack of training often leads to an unintended opportunity for those receiving help or those wishing to exploit the organization. A large number of churches are not financially able to increase security measures such as alarms systems, video packages, or even better doors, locks and windows. The majority of congregations spend the larger part of their collections on programs and ministries while security measures and building and ground security are overlooked or never considered. Most attending church never consider the possibility of an emergency situation presenting itself during a church event. Emergency situations can occur at any time, and take many forms; from medical to natural disaster to active shooter and everything in between. Being prepared for security is as important as being prepared for the service.
“Quality is never an accident. It is always the result of intelligent effort.” John Ruskin
2. What are the main areas to look at when setting up church security?
Buildings and grounds are the basics to consider first. The investment in good doors, adequate locks and secure window treatments are paramount for a solid foundation in all things security related. Secondly the consideration of alarm systems, audio visual surveillance, fully stocked medical emergency kits, even first aid and CPR training are all viable options that could prove useful and cost effective in the long run. Every layer of security and preparedness added decreases the potential for limited or no response and could reduce the possibility for civil action. The addition of an all hazards approach to security issues could even reduce annual insurance premiums. The next step for any organization is to consider policy and procedure. Policy should dictate the actions of staff and volunteers and should be followed as closely as possible. The lack of policy opens the doors for self -interpretation when reacting to impromptu scenarios. The failure to have proper procedures for common occurrences can create chaos and disorder. From basic service structure, to responding to medical emergencies, and even reacting to disorderly subjects or active shooter events, policy and procedure followed by adequate training will provide the needed framework for a directed response.
3. What to do if a shooter is in the church?
Prevention and preparedness will go a long way in offsetting the aftermath of unfortunate violent events. Proper mental conditioning, training and prevention strategies are paramount to effective management of crisis. Failure to prepare and failure to act are not an option.
In order to prepare for crisis events, we must first consider the 4 steps to crime prevention:
Anticipation – We must anticipate that things can and will go wrong. This is not a pessimistic view, but a realization that the world is not perfect nor are the people we interact with on a daily basis. “We cannot control the criminal so we must make ourselves a harder target” (NRA Refuse To Be A Victim 2015)
Recognition – We must be able to recognize criminal or emergency events as they are happening or about to happen. Our recognition will be based on our level of preparation and training. If we haven’t taken proper steps to prepare we may miss the actual event as it begins to unfold or the warning signs pre-event.
Appraisal – Proper appraisal of pre-event indicators or actual unfolding events will bring into play our practiced levels of preparedness. These levels should be prevention driven and policy activated. Assessment is a key tool in our arsenal, but time constraints must be considered as a major factor. In moments of duress or crisis we often don’t have the luxury of lengthy appraisals, but are forced to make split second decisions. Planning and preparation are essential to accurate appraisal.
Action – Lastly we must take action. Our actions must follow the progression of the steps previously discussed. Additionally our actions should be directly focused on safety. Safety and security are often not convenient, but are always necessary!
For any active shooter scenario there are 3 basic responses to remember:
Avoid– If the opportunity is available avoid the immediate area where the the shooting is taking place. Try to take others with you but don’t let their indecision slow you down. Knowing the layout of the building or facility beforehand will greatly aid this option. As soon as you are safe call 911!
Deny – If avoidance is not an option, secure yourself and deny the assailant access to your location. Securing in place may be the best option at that moment for survival. Select a location that offers cover and concealment. Cover protects against the possibility of incoming rounds while concealment shields your location from a would be assailant. Knowing the layout of the building or facility beforehand will greatly aid this option. Lock doors, barricade with large objects, turn of lights and silence cell phones to avoid detection as long as possible.
Defend – If avoidance and denial are not viable options then you must defend yourself. Improvised weapons can be selected from common items in your surroundings. Your attack should be direct and with precise force. At a minimum you may disorient or even disarm the assailant long enough to flee to a safer location.
(Excerpted from the Houston Texas Office of Public Safety and the Department of Homeland Security)
Click Here For more on Active Shooter Response.
Knowing where to look for additional information or needed equipment is paramount to the success of a security ministry or program for any house of worship. Please take some time to review the links below for more information on securing houses of worship both during and outside of dedicated service times.
Links of Interest
Missouri Faith Based Homeland Security Initiative
Strategos international Church Security and Intruder Response Training
Security at Church
National Crime Prevention - Preparing for Natural Disasters
CERT - Community Emergency Response Training - Danville Fire Department