Risk Reporter for Religious Institutions
Spring 2013 Vol. 12, Issue 2
Although catastrophically violent events are not frequent, the consequences are tragic. With the recent rise in active shooter incidents, specifically, many organizations are asking questions about how to make sure they are prepared for such violent events.
“There are several precautionary measures that can be taken,” said Ron Aguiar, director of safety and security at Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Ky., and author of Keeping Your Church Safe. “It starts with getting a group together to develop a plan.”
Forming and training a security team
One of the most effective steps a religious organization can take to help prevent catastrophic violence is to develop a security team. The team should be made up of staff or congregation members and should include local law enforcement representatives.
Jeff Kowell, director of the life safety ministry at New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colo., which experienced a deadly shooting following a Sunday service in 2007, advises religious organizations to be deliberate in their efforts to develop and maintain a dedicated, trained group of men and women to help keep their congregations safe.
“Train ministry staff and volunteers to be watchful and not dismiss behaviors or occurrences that could be indicators of violence,” Kowell said.
Oftentimes, local law enforcement agencies will provide an officer or representative to speak to your staff and security team about precautions they should take and signs of potential danger.
Aguiar notes that ushers and greeters — whether they know it or not — often serve as the front-line security team, so it’s important to get them involved. “Violence often occurs by a late arriver interrupting a service,” Aguiar said. “If ushers and greeters are well-trained, they might be able to identify and prevent danger before it occurs.”
Kowell also suggests training team members to look for “DLRs,” meaning “Don’t Look Right.” Other organizations use the “See Something, Say Something” motto.
“When something or someone is out of place or behaving erratically, we practice ‘aggressive friendliness’ and engage them in a nonthreatening way — hopefully to productive ends,” Kowell said. “Many times, this practice is enough to dissuade an individual looking for a place to act out.”
Developing community partnerships
Aguiar recommends reaching outside of the organization and partnering with the local community. Many communities have InfraGard® chapters. InfraGard is a partnership between the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the private sector and is dedicated to sharing information and intelligence to prevent hostile acts in the United States. To learn more about InfraGard, visit www.infragard.net.
“Attending the monthly InfraGard meetings brings a national perspective to my security team and also allows me to get firsthand information as well as free safety tips and advice from the experts,” Aguiar said.
If there’s not an InfraGard chapter near you, Kowell suggests creating your own community meeting. “Reach out to law enforcement and start having monthly community meetings with several local religious organizations along with police and fire departments,” Kowell said. “Many retail businesses do this already, and it provides an environment to share information as well as develop healthy relationships and friendships between faith-based organizations and law enforcement officials.”
Arming security teams
The decision to have or forego armed security is one that should be carefully considered — not made as a rash reaction to the latest spur of violent crimes. For an organization that feels it’s appropriate to have armed security personnel on its grounds, there are some options. One is to hire an off-duty police officer, which limits the organization’s liability.
“It typically costs about $25 per hour to have an off-duty police officer monitor an event, such as a worship service,” said Chuck Chadwick, president of the National Organization of Church Security and Safety Management, Inc.™ (NOCSSM).
If an organization can’t afford to hire professional law enforcement, Aguiar recommends developing a partnership with the law enforcement officials in your community.
“If you invite your local law enforcement officials — both police and fire departments — to your building, they will typically perform a site assessment for free,” Aguiar said. “If the local emergency response teams know their way around your building in advance of a violent situation, it can save time and lives.”
Carrying concealed weapons
The decision to allow congregation members to carry concealed weapons on the property also should not be a spur-of-the-moment decision. Thorough research and legal consultation should be sought in every situation.
“Just because a congregation leader feels that it is okay for a member to carry a concealed weapon doesn’t mean it’s legally okay,” Chadwick said.
Every state has different concealed weapons carrying laws. Some states require religious organizations to give individuals permission to carry concealed weapons inside. Other states do not require this permission.
“Additionally, having unidentified armed members ‘in the mix’ during a shooting introduces a variable and risk that both the organization’s security team and local police need to be aware of and trained for to ensure emergency response plans are effective,” Kowell said.
Responding to violent events
To help religious organizations be as prepared as possible, the security team should train and educate organization members on what to do if a violent event were to occur. Aguiar recommends training congregations to do three things if an intruder starts shooting:
- Get away. Get out of the building if the shooter is inside and escape to a safe place.
- Hide. If you’re unable to escape, try to avoid being seen by the shooter. Close doors, turn off lights and turn off cellphones to avoid attracting attention to yourself.
- Confront the shooter. If there’s nowhere to escape or hide, plan actions to confront the shooter. Find a large object, such as a chair, to throw at the shooter to help distract him or her. Then, with the help of others, overwhelm the shooter to stop the violence.
“Don’t wait until something happens,” Aguiar said. “Form a committee or a team and start talking, seek outside council, make a plan and then pray you never have to use it.”
- For more information on armed security, including a list of questions to help determine if it’s a wise option for your organization, visit www.churchmutual.com, click on “Safety Resources” and select “Risk Alerts.”