Recently there was yet another horrific school shooting, this time in Newtown, Connecticut. These tragedies that happen in schools are senseless and horrific. My prayers have been lifted up for the families of the faculty and students.
Churches are also targets of gunmen and stories of these horrible events have peppered the news over the years. Church safety is not my business, but I have developed relationships with some men who have taken threats to churches seriously. These men each have years of experience with security and have applied their learnings to help educate and train churches. These men are Carl Chinn (Security Consultant & expert seen on major news networks as an authority on the subject), Chuck Chadwick (CEO, National Organization of Church Security & Safety Management) and Jeff Kowell (Director of Life Safety at New Life Church, Colorado Springs, CO, where a shooter killed two girls on December 9, 2007).
These men have done a lot to help educate churches, so I’ve copied and pasted some helpful information below. However, I strongly recommend checking out their websites and applying the learnings they’ve shared so freely to help churches. Thanks to them for making this information available.
In 2010 I personally wrote the “Seven Critical Security Tips for Churches” as part of an educational series when I worked as the Director of Communications at Fellowship Technologies. Here’s the link to a PDF of that article: Seven Critical Security Tips for Churches. You can find other helpful articles in their Dynamic Church Trends archives.
Church Safety & Security Tips
HIRING OFF DUTY LAW ENFORCEMENT
Many larger law enforcement agencies do not allow officers to serve as security volunteers when they are off-duty. However, extra-duty agreements are often an option with those agencies. There are often officers willing to serve from smaller jurisdictions in the region that do not have no-voluntary-service employment clauses.
VOLUNTEER SECURITY ROTATION
Try to organize volunteers into two teams — odd & even — each of which serves only on the Sundays with odd or even dates. This way you don’t burn out volunteers, and they are able to attend service with their family every other Sunday. A few times a year (on months with five Sundays) they need to work two weekends in a row
VIDEO CAMERA SURVEILLANCE SYSTEMS
CCTV (surveillance) systems not only deter crime and capture incidents, but verify what didn’t happen as well as (critical in false accusation cases).
Intrusion detection systems can be integrated with automated lighting controls. For example, when a door is forced, window broken or motion sensors are activated at night, all exterior building lights and the parking lot lights can come on. Lights always on can be almost as vulnerable as lights never on. But lights that come on due to some action catch the attention of both perps and night-time patrolling officers.
Pre-alarm covers on pull stations prevent most nuisance fire alarms. In addition, you may check with your fire alarm system provider regarding PAS (Positive Alarm Sequence) programming. This allows operations staff 180 seconds to investigate any alarm before the horns go off. The fire department will require evidence of effective staff training on fire alarms, which is a mandated benefit.
LIABILITY DUE TO SEXUAL PREDATORS
If you knew or should have known that a person had the potential and / or history of harming children, you may be liable. Beyond that man-made legal mandate is the far more important God-given order to look after those little ones with sincerity. When it comes to sexual predators – you won’t recognize them when you see them. Develop recurring background investigations for all volunteers and all staff regardless of whether their position is related to children, youth or vulnerable adults because all staff and volunteers will be around them in some way at some time.
Note: I (Anthony) personally recommend two background search firms that don’t just limit their checks to national registries, but go all the way to local county searches (far more effective): SecureSearchPro.com and Clear Investigative Advantage. I know the owners of both and personally endorse both firms.
A car broken into in a church parking lot is a serious issue. Police should always be notified instantly, as these thieves often take information from the vehicle registration to determine the home of the owner – drawing a conclusion that the home will be unguarded then, or at the same time in future weeks. In some cases, they take the garage door opener and before the investigation is over at the parking lot, they are already in the home. As a precaution, vehicle registration and other owner address information should be kept in a secure place in the vehicle.
SECURITY PROGRAM LOCAL HELP
Don’t re-invent the entire wheel when developing a security program. Local ordinances often require Shelter in Place, Emergency Action or Security Plans for schools. Police school resource officers will often share relative school district programs when asked.
Keep an incident log of medical emergencies, and quickly pass on the names of any persons treated for medical issues to pastoral staff for prompt personal follow-up ministry.
DISCREET LIVE NOTIFICATIONS
The best eyes on the audience are those of the announcer, Senior Pastor or Song Leader (depending on the time of service). When and of these folks see something that may need the attention of security, they can point with a unique gesture (not a normal gesture for them). To anyone in the audience, it simply looks like a normal speaking hand gesture. To those in security, you will know where to focus attention.
OFFICE RECEPTIONIST ALERTS
You can train receptionists to make an announcement to equally trained staff responders over the intercom system of “Tom Smith, you have a call on line 1” any time a situation is making her uncomfortable at the front lobby. Choose any name that is not someone working for you – it is an announcement requesting assistance.
SECURITY PERSONNEL IDENTIFICATION
There are two primary ways of security personnel identification – uniformed, or non-uniformed. Non-uniformed is preferred in almost all ministry environments. Should a significant incident develop, there will be a need for identification as first responders arrive – they must be able to distinguish between the good and bad human elements on scene. Badges are good, but in a high-adrenalin incident they won’t be seen. Following are some options;
- Professional jackets that look like good usher jackets but have tactical pockets. In a security or emergency situation extra flaps are available out of the vest pocket and collar that identify SECURITY.
- Undercover (non-uniformed) local, state and federal law enforcement agents have the same concern – other responding law enforcement to their scenes also may not recognize them as the “good side”. The most dangerous time for “blue on blue” shootings is after the assailant has been engaged or disabled and multiple responders are arriving on scene. A great resource (tool) is the DSM (don’t shoot me) pull-out banner available at www.DSMsafety.com.
CHILD CHECK-IN AND CHECK-OUT
- Register child in system
- Print 2 tags/stickers and affix to Child and Parent
- Check child into room
- Match parent tag with child tag upon Exit.
Pretty Simple, Right? Not so fast. What if you have to evacuate in the middle of the service? How will you reconcile all of the children to their parents? Did you make a list/log of the children as they entered the room that you could take with you outside in an evacuation? (Check-In step 3)
Here’s a pretty cool addition to a sticker system I saw implemented at one of our church clients; Instead of printing just TWO stickers; print THREE. Use the third sticker to stick on a classroom Log Book. Initial beside each sticker as the child is matched with the parent at the classroom door for checkout. If there is an emergency, take the log book/sheets with you. This is a list of children in the room and a way to check them out after the evacuation.
RISK & VULNERABILITY ASSESSMENTS
Risk & Vulnerability Assessments are critical as a first step in developing any security program. Law enforcement and insurance agencies both perform them without charge. It is good to modify one (after the first one done by others) to repeat annually to record progress and make certain nothing has slipped.