Planning for Emergencies and Crises at Your Church
In our last column, we discussed the phases necessary to develop your church security plan.
- Develop a planning team.
- Facilitate a discussion and risk assessment using the Collaborative Informed Consent model.
- Draft your goals and objectives.
To write and use your plan, use the six specific steps explained below.
Consult with Community Partners
“Without prophetic vision, the people shall perish …” Proverbs 29:18
All planning begins with a vision. Your team should develop the vision and understand it well enough to easily explain it to any congregant.
A “shared vision” is critical to achieving desired results.
One church’s vision was: “When you come to church here, you will feel safe; our ‘sheepdogs’ are protecting our flock.”
Engage local emergency management, first responders, and law enforcement partners. Explain what you want to accomplish, and ask them to join your planning group.
Seek out “fence-line” neighbors who may share a property line with the church. Ask them to help you “keep an eye out” on unusual activity and immediately report it to authorities and the church contact. Encourage them that if they “see something, say something.”
The active shooter in Texas parked his vehicle, walked 50 plus yards dressed in battle gear and carrying a rifle before spraying rounds of fire into two sides of the building. Then he entered the church. The church’s parking lot is the first and one of the most important locations to have “eyes and ears”.
Risk Assessment Considerations
The planning committee must consider threats and prioritize them. For example, tornadoes are likely to happen in the spring or summer. Consider what damage could occur, how much time is available to warn the congregants, and how long the threat could last.
Consider the “after-shocks” and follow-on effects of the threat. Robberies, assaults, and active shooters could turn your church into a crime scene, which means it could be cordoned off for days, maybe weeks, and the media demands will be incessant.
Setting Goals and Desired Outcomes
Prioritize each threat from high to low. Set goals (general statements about the desired outcome) for your highest priorities.
An objective is a step to take to achieve the goal. If your goal is to prevent fires, objectives could be providing fire prevention training to cooks, ensuring the church has available fire extinguishers and that congregants know how to use them as well as an evacuation plan, if necessary.
Developing and using table-top scenarios
Specific plan scenarios should be outlined based on priority. What do you do in the event of an active shooter, tornado or medical emergency? The responses and responders will be different for each.
Consider length of response time (particularly in rural areas), who in the church will make the decisions, and what the courses of action are.
Use facilitated table-top exercises with your committee to develop specific action steps. Look under “Resources” at www.ldarrylarmstrong.com for an example. If your church membership has first-aid responders who attend regularly, involve them and explain how they can help.
Plan Preparation, Review and Approval
Determine courses of action for each high priority threat (include active shooter scenarios). Compare the costs and benefits. Present the draft of the written plan to the organization’s leadership for approval or changes.
Plan Implementation and Maintenance
Share the plan before finalizing with a review group of your community partners, emergency responders, and law enforcement. Get their feedback and include all genders and ages as third-party insights are extremely valuable.
Communications Internally and Externally
Disseminate understandable, concise information to the internal and external audiences. Use the church website or social media to push out the information. Inform your local media. If the church has a website for members, this information can be shared there.
Choose volunteers who meet your criteria and who agree to train. Use table-top exercises to hold practice drills. Review and update the plan at least every two-years or if there are changes to buildings, policies or personnel.
Finally, arrange for crisis communications and media relations training for at least three members of the team, In the event of an active shooter, your pastor, deacons, and critical leadership will need it.
These columns share the expertise and ideas gleaned from our experience and those involved in church security. We challenge you and your leadership to explore what has become a vitally important role in today’s houses of worship — safety and security for those who come to worship.
Interested persons can find additional information including a video introduction on church security, podcasts, and materials designed to inform and educate at www.churchsafetyministry.com. A series of webinars are under development, and those interested in attending these online seminars can register at the website to receive announcements on dates.
(L. Darryl Armstrong Ph.D. is the principal at L. Darryl ARMSTRONG and Associates LLC. His firm provides crisis communications and prevention consulting services and training to clients nation-wide. He has more than 40-years of experience in helping clients prepare for emergencies and crisis. A graduate of Murray State University in communications and behavioral psychology and the Executive Security Institute with an emphasis in security planning, he holds a doctoral degree in neuro-linguistics. He is available for limited speaking engagements and consulting. 1.888.340.2006, firstname.lastname@example.org and www.ldarrylarmstrong.com.)