Churches, like any other businesses in today’s environment, must take steps to ensure the safety of their congregations.
Because emergencies happen to all businesses, a thoughtful and resilient emergency plan of action is prudent.
As of December 19, 108 people were killed in churches in 2017.
When an active shooter on November 5, 2017, killed 26 people and wounded 20 at a rural Baptist church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, media, public, and political concerns reached a new high.
This church attack was the deadliest active shooting by an individual in Texas history and the fifth-deadliest in the United States. It is the most devastating active shooting in an American place of worship in our history.
Such events disappear quickly from the front pages of mainstream media, and many people, including pastors and congregants, resort to thinking, “it can’t happen to us.” Hopefully, it won’t.
Although the chances that your congregants will be involved in such an attack are slim, church leadership must accept the possibility and plan for this and all other possible emergencies.
Having worked in the field of crisis communications, prevention, and management for 40-years, I believe in and practice with my clients “ praying for the best while preparing for the worse.”
Organizations that do so will survive and recover; those that don’t suffer severe and often irreparable consequences.
This series of columns will provide insight into the questions that church leaders and pastors must consider as they plan for the safety of their congregants.
Planning for the necessary personnel to respond, the communication of the event, training church personnel, and the event follow-up should cover issues such as:
- Why houses of worship need an emergency response plan and the types of emergencies to include.
- The importance of a facilitated dialogue with leadership and congregants about developing an action plan that includes law enforcement, emergency response, legal and insurance personnel a process we call “Collaborative Informed Consent.”
- Considerations of hiring professional security personnel or using volunteers, including a “talent inventory” from your congregants.
- Conducting a risk analysis and evaluation of your church facility, parking lot, and personnel.
- Why your institution is a “soft target” and how to “harden” it by quickly achieving “soft” and “hard” lockdowns.
- Having trained “screeners” and the options for action they must take when an incident develops.
- Understanding your internal and external communication needs and venues before, during, and after a crisis.
- Considering non-lethal and lethal options.
- How to gather intelligence and ensure confidentiality.
- How to protect children and seniors who are the most vulnerable members of your congregation.
- Understanding what an active shooter is and how they think.
- The times of day and the days of the week your church is most vulnerable.
- The role of active or retired military, law enforcement, and concealed carry permit holders on your security team.
- What you must communicate to your congregation about your plan and what they must do in the event of an emergency, including an active shooter.
- Whether you should post signage, and, if so, what should it say?
- Establishing proactive establishment of post-event counseling and recovery assistance.
- Teaching self-awareness and using the “see something, say something” strategy.
- Pros and cons of “Run, hide and fight.”
- The need for “Stop the Bleed” first-aid kits and training.
These columns share the expertise gleaned from our four decades of experience in crisis planning and management and those involved in church security nationwide. We challenge you to explore what has become a vitally important role in today’s houses of worship – safety and security and not just to conclude that carrying a weapon in a house of prayer is all you have to do to protect your congregants.
Interested persons can find additional information including an introductory video on church security, podcasts, and downloadable materials at www.ldarrylarmstrong.com. A pilot webinar is under development, and those interested in participating in this pilot can register at our website to receive announcements of future presentation dates.
(L. Darryl Armstrong Ph.D. is the principal at L. Darryl ARMSTRONG and Associates LLC, a firm providing crisis communications and consulting training nation-wide. Dr. Armstrong, who holds a doctoral degree in neuro-linguistics, graduated from Murray State University in communications and behavioral psychology and the Executive Security Institute with an emphasis in security planning. For limited speaking engagements and consulting, contact him at 1.888.340.2006, firstname.lastname@example.org and www.ldarrylarmstrong.com.)