A church is often viewed as a safe haven–not only by the congregation members, staff and volunteers–but by the community it’s a part of. However, today’s reality proves that shootings and violent outbreaks are more commonplace and churches aren’t excluded from that. The Charleston church shooting on June 17, 2015, demonstrated that violent incidents may occour at any time and churches are vulnerable to such acts
Shocking as it may seem, violent incidents like the one in Charleston happen several times each year at churches across the country. And while it’s not a pleasant topic to discuss, churches need to prepare themselves in the unfortunate case that a violent act does occur. Below are some suggestions for how to make your church and its members less vulnerable.
How to Make Your Church Less Vulnerable
- If you don’t already have one, create a church Safety and Security Team. Designate a point person on security issues to be the security director and define the responsibilities of that position.
- Conduct a security assessment to identify your church’s vulnerabilities. Ideally, the assessment would be conducted in conjunction with your local law enforcement agency.
- Develop a church security plan with defined roles for all staff, including greeters, ushers and other frontline workers and volunteers.
- Within your church security plan, include a seating location for all security personnel, lockdown procedures, crisis communications and an evacuation plan.
- If appropriate for the size of your church, have walkie-talkies, pagers and/or radios on hand so that you may effectively communicate any issues of concern.
- Establish a zero-tolerance policy for fights, altercations and other disruptions.
- Work with local law enforcement to provide training for staff and volunteers on topics such as dealing with disruptive individuals and identifying and diffusing potentially violent situations.
- Understand the rules and limitations of a concealed carry weapons permit (CCW) and what your rights as a church are in allowing members or visitors to bring their firearm to church.
How to Make Your Church Members Less Vulnerable
- Never allow staff to work alone. Always ensure that there are at least two employees present at all times.
- Establish an internal distress code that will alert others in the office to your need for assistance. For example, if your members typically address each other by first name, your distress code could be addressing a colleague by his/her last name (i.e., “Ms. Smith”).
- Keep all church doors locked except when in use and limit access points as much as possible.
- Make sure all church staff members know of and understand the church’s security plan.
- The best way to address violence is to be prepared. There is no assurance that a violent episode can be avoided. However, you can be prepared for the possibility of an incident occurring and therefore react to a deadly situation in a timelier manner, potentially saving lives.
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