03 Sep Prepare now to keep your congregation safe -7 steps to take
Churches of all sizes, locations, and resources have experienced acts of violence. No church is immune to the risk of a violent episode occurring. Often there are pre-cursors or warning signs to the violent act, such as threats or previous outbursts, disputes, or confrontations. Prepare now to keep your congregation safe.
Most violent acts are carried out by people who have some connection to the congregation, whether through a domestic situation or other relationship to a church member or staff person.
There is no assurance that a violent episode in church can be avoided. However, you can be prepared for the possibility of an incident occurring by understanding the threat and being proactive in your security planning.
Your church may not have security experts on staff. You may be wondering where to start. We’d like to share the following as you take steps to keep your congregation safe.
7 Steps you can take now
- Establish a Safety and Security Team, designate a point person on security issues to be the church security director. Define the responsibilities of that position.
- Know your church’s safety policy and procedures –Southern Mutual Church Insurance has provided a sample Church Security Manual with policies and procedures https://www.smcins.com/pdf/SampleChurchSecurityManual-Ver1.0.pdf
- Conduct a security assessment to identify your church’s vulnerabilities. Ideally, this assessment is conducted in conjunction with your local law enforcement agency or other security professional.
- Develop a church security plan and guidelines with defined roles for all staff persons, including greeters, ushers, and other frontline workers and volunteers. Your local law enforcement agency may be a resource to you in forming the security plan.
- Include in the plan a seating location for ushers and/or security personnel (strategically stationed in both the front and the rear of the sanctuary), lockdown procedures for areas of the church, crisis communications, and an evacuation plan for the building.
- Establish a method for quickly communicating issues of concern, such as a weapon, to appropriate church personnel, such as the security director, as well as to authorities. Depending on the size of your church, walkie-talkies, two-way radios, pagers, and/or cell phones may be appropriate to have on hand.
- Work with your local law enforcement agency to provide training for staff and frontline workers and volunteers on topics such as dealing with disruptive individuals and identifying and diffusing potentially violent situations.
What to Do in the Event of a Violent Incident
If a violent incident occurs at your church, the priority is to protect the people in your congregation. To do this, follow these steps:
- Call 911.
- If there is an opportunity to keep the invader out by locking doors and/or closing off areas of the church, do so.
- If there is an opportunity to remove all members and guests from the premises, do so as quickly as possible.
- Quickly control panic situations. By doing so, you will be more likely to conduct a sequenced evacuation, if possible.
- A leader, such as the pastor and/or security director, must take charge and provide orders to be followed.
- Never allow staff to work alone. Always ensure that there are at least two employees always present.
- Establish an internal distress code that will alert others in the office to your need for assistance. For example, if church office workers typically address each other by first name, your distress code may be that addressing a colleague by last name (i.e., “Mr. Smith”) will signal a distress situation.
- Keep all church doors locked except when in use and then limit access points as much as possible.
- Consider installation of a “panic button” for frontline workers such as receptionists.
- Ensure that exterior lighting is adequate in all areas, especially parking lots and walkways. Ask your local law enforcement for assistance with a lighting audit.
- Ensure that all staff know of and understand the church’s security plan.