Ya’ll shoulda see’d it!

Please forgive my title, but how many times have you seen the news reporter interviewing someone, and thought to yourself “Couldn’t they find anyone better to talk to?”. Think of the person standing in front of the camera that has a (not so nice) saying, or someone that swears when they get excited. Well, that is something that the church needs to consider as well. No matter what the size of the church, an incident can happen at any time, and you need to consider what image you want your church to have prior to an incident ever happening.

A media relations person is a positive for any church, and should not only be considered useful for times of crisis. If they can develop media contacts, they can l help the church to share God’s message and to create a positive message for your house of worship. After developing relationships with individuals in the media, they have an inside source that can help the church for in outreach for a special event. By simply asking, they may be able to advertise for the event, or even get the news agency to possibly cover it. How encouraging would it be when the church is having a revival, for it to be standing room only? How wonderful would it be to have Vacation Bible school so packed that you had to ask for more help? How exciting would it be to have hundreds, or even thousands (depending on the market), of people show up for your next fundraiser or food drive? A media relations person, if they are good, may be able to help your church do this, and it can help provide you with direct contact to people that need the Lord!

Similarly, should there be an active shooting in your church, the media relations person will already have a relationship with the media, and in most instances by simply asking, they may be able to convince the media not to show certain things. Some of those “things”  could be body bags being removed, people being loaded into an ambulance, talking with already stunned parishioners, or showing children. They may also be able to reduce false rumors just by having a working relationship with the media person. The media relations person can do more for your church than you can imagine.

Active shootings are not the only crisis that a church could face. They could face a fire, a flood, sexual misconduct, theft or armed robbery, or other types of violence in the church. Your media relations person will be there to guide the way the church is presented and viewed. This can be very important! There are some (albeit few), media outlets that will spread rumors that are not verified, and in some instances, they may even make up stories. While these instances are rare, they do happen.

Over the next few days, I will provide guidance of on how to choose a media relations person, who should be the media relations person (hint, normally not the Pastor), when there should be an assistant for the media relations person, where to get training (some of it free) and much more. Until then, may God bless you, … Mark

Evaluating response

I should start out by saying that the information I have been sharing is a quick guide, and should not be considered a comprehensive teaching. For more in-depth understanding, talk with a professional, or contact us and we can help you go through the entire process with a fine tooth comb.

So up till this point, we have discussed creating a plan, creating policies and procedures, equipping the church, training the church, undertaking exercises, and evaluating what you have done. Today, we will discuss improving the plan.

If you undertook exercises right, your evaluation should have found things that need fine tuning. The process of improving the plan is as critical as creating the plan in the first place. When you find gaps in your plan and/or your response,  you need to make adjustments to mitigate those gaps so there are none.

Mitigation is the process of reducing the risk that those gaps will show up again in a real incident. The real issue is how to overcome those gaps. This is a task that is best served by a collaborative effort between the Safety and Security Committee and the Safety and Security Team. It is important to note that one person should not come up with the mitigation measures themselves. Why? Because they will look at it one way, while someone else may have a different (better) idea.

Overcoming and mitigating these gaps could require a multitude of different measures, or only one or two new adjustment.  No matter how good or bad the exercise turned out, this is where the Safety and Security Committee and the Safety and Security team needs to be critical. They need to ask the tough questions, then come up with viable solutions. Mitigating these gaps can be done in a variety of ways, including:

  • Changing the initial plan
  • Changing or creating new policies and procedures
  • Obtaining new equipment
  • Changing or getting new or different training
  • Creating a larger safety and security team
  • Hiring a consultant
  • Hiring individuals to fill some of the gaps (this should be a last resort).

Of course, there could be a multitude of other ways, but these are the most common. After deciding what needs to be done to improve the safety and security of the church, then it should be implemented. This does not mean that the work is done by far.

After the plan and implementing these changes, it is time to start the Preparedness Cycle all over again! How long should the process take? The entire process should take a year, from beginning to end. When should it end? The planning process in continuous and should be done indefinitely. Part of our responsibility to those that trust us with taking care of their spiritual care is to keep them safe from those that choose to harm or destroy us. We should never stop trying to keep Gods flock safe!

For the readers that always read this blog, I will be out of pocket for the next few days. I have six or so (former) students that are graduating with their Master’s in Public Safety from Tennessee Tech University. This is always a proud moment for me. Pastor Thomas Black will be taking over until  I get back. May the Lord keep you and your congregation safe and bless you, … Mark (AKA Dr. W.)

Planning the exercise

When we plan exercises, we want to make them as realistic as possible. That is why choosing which person should play the  perpetrator (or patient) is so important. You want someone that is imaginative, and who can think on their feet. With this, you should give them the basic scenario (man with a gun, robbing the church, heart attack, etc.), then let them do their thing. You should tell them the basics of what you want to test, but you should not tell the team what is coming. You don’t want the actor to follow exactly what you tell them to do, you want them to do the unexpected so that you can get a firm grasp on how your team will respond to surprise situations. You will find that if you pick the right person, they will push your team to the limits.

Even better, try using multiple people who could be the perpetrator or patient. If you have four or more people willing to play the bad guy or patient, then it tests you even more. Let them come in a sit down in different spots. Behaviorally profile them to see who is acting strange, or who is showing signs of carrying a weapon. If it is a medical issue you are testing, then the patient can be ill, and the person next to them is panicked or ill. Perhaps they become enraged and pull a weapon. Perhaps one is a perpetrator, and they injured (stabbed or shot) someone so you have to neutralize the situation, then treat the patient. You could even go with less probable situations, such as one active shooter that stands up and draws a firearm, and when the team responds, a second shooter engages the security team.

If approached properly, these exercises can be a lot of fun. In fact, several people I know have said “We need to do another exercise day soon! That was fun!” While it may be fun, it also allows the security team to look and act on different scenarios. Additionally, if and when the time actually comes, they will most likely not have to think about what to do, they will fall back on their training.

Finally, when all is said and done, then everyone should meet and talk about what went right and what went wrong. If the church has cameras, or someone is recording the exercises, you can even go back and look at the video. Make sure you incorporate the evaluators’ feedback, because they are a totally neutral party.

Tomorrow, I will discuss what to do with the feedback. May God bless you and keep you safe, … Mark

Work your plan!

Jumping jacks, and one, and two, and three … Yeah, … no! No, we do not mean exercising like that. The type of exercise this post is about relates to testing your plans for church safety and security. What better way is there to make sure that all of that hard work you did, with planning and training, will work.

Let me first start with safety. Here at Saving Lives and Souls, we are neutral on whether security teams should have firearms in church. It isn’t that we don’t have an opinion, because we do! Each church is different, and laws vary from place to place. If your church decides to arm, or allow armed individuals with firearms, then there needs to be some consideration for safety when it comes to exercising your plan.

The first and foremost safety issue is that real weapons should NEVER be used when undertaking exercises, … NEVER!!!!  Using real weapons is a recipe for disaster! As a consultant, if a church is armed, and they want to test their plan, I encourage them to buy Airsoft guns and safety glasses.

These spring-loaded guns shoot small plastic balls, and can be extremely inexpensive. At one job I worked at, the majority of the office workers had an airsoft gun, some even carrying them in a holster.  Sometimes the boss would jump around the corner shooting, and you would respond in kind. To be honest, this was probably something that heightened situational awareness more than anything. If you got hit with one of the plastic balls, it stung a little bit (if it hit bare skin), but it was less painful than a mosquito bite. He even got to the point of sending friends in to test mess with us. Perhaps I am strange (no perhaps about it), but I thought it was fun to have to defend yourself in a non-lethal way.

For as little as $5 per replica handgun (plus shipping), you could add realism to your exercise while not having the potential for lethality. If you wanted to spend a little extra on the bad guys weapon, you can purchase a replica AR-15 for around $20. I should mention that the links to these replica weapons are no way an endorsement for this company, they are only used to demonstrate how reasonable the prices can be. Don’t forget the safety glasses!

I should also mention that whenever undertaking an exercise, nothing should be done that is unsafe. Think through everything and look for the potential someone could get hurt. If there is even the slightest possibility that someone could get hurt, then that danger must either be mitigated, or that part of the exercise should not be undertaken.

In the public safety arena, preparing for a full scale exercise is a long process. They can include:

  • Seminars
  • Workshop
  • Tabletop Exercise (TTX)
  • Games
  • Drills
  • Functional Exercise (FE)
  • Full-Scale Exercises (FSE)

I could get more detailed about all of this, but it would serve no purpose. When it comes to churches (especially smaller churches), the long process of preparing for a full-scale exercise will likely “burn out” volunteers. For that reason, it is suggested that the capability of the safety and security teams, as well as their protocols, are tested. This would involve creating as close to real-life incidents as possible.

When undertaking these exercises, there will need to be an evaluation. Evaluating the safety teams response could be done by a member of the church, however it would be better to have someone from public safety present to evaluate the response. More specifically, if testing security response, then either law enforcement or emergency management officials might be the best evaluator. If testing fire response, then a fire official or emergency manager might be best, and if testing a medical emergency, then an EMS or fire official might be best. This also allows these agencies to integrate with your team, and it helps them to know what your team will do. With that, they can create a more integrated response with your team should an incident actually occur.

Tomorrow,  I will discuss who to choose to be your “bad guy”, the types of scenarios to consider, and whether or not you should also have victims in your exercise. While my guidance may seem long and drawn out, it is important to note that by taking the extra steps, your church will be better prepared than most. Remember:

If we fail to plan, … then we plan to fail, … Mark

Train, train, train!!!

I was in church one Sunday, when an incident happened. A con man (not an active shooter) came into our church, just as the Pastor was asking for prayer requests, and he hobbled with his cane to the front row. Most knew he was a con man, because about a year before, he came in telling how he had recently had a heart attack and needed money to get back to Alabama from Illinois. The church took up a collection and helped the man. A few days later, our Pastor was at the Ministerial Alliance meeting, and found out that this person had been making the rounds and collecting money from churches, but I digress.

So this man comes in, hobbling with a cane, and sits in the front row. When the Pastor asked for prayer requests, the man raised his hand, and the Pastor called him out. Suddenly, the man ran out of the sanctuary; he had no limp and his cane never hit the floor. The Pastor was running behind him saying “Repent! Repent I tell you!”. As the man ran out the door, the Pastor (and pretty much all of the unofficial security team) ran out the door and confronted the man and his accomplice at their truck. The first mistake was chasing them to their truck. The second issue was confronting them. The third issue, they left the church, and pretty much everyone in it, unprotected. After everyone returned, and after the service was over, several of us discussed how foolish those actions were. While they were outside, the could have been shot, run over, or a whole host of other things. Additionally, if the con man had put together a more sinister plan, an accomplice could have gone into the church with a gun after the Pastor and others ran out of the church. The door was behind everyone that followed the man out, and another person could have run in and robbed the whole church.  While not likely, it is still possible.

As a trained public safety official, and an emergency manager, I have the responsibility to think of the “worst case” scenario, and figure out how to mitigate that worst case scenario. The same should hold true for you and your church! Many times, security teams focus on the known threat, but fail to realize there may be an unknown or even a secondary threat. By having assigned duties, and training on those assigned duties, and overlapping responsibilities,you can reduce your risk even more.

As an example, lets say that prior to the church service that the person that monitors the security cameras decides to go to the bathroom. While in the bathroom, the greeters see someone get out of their car with a long gun, and they are walking towards the front door. They give the signal to secure the door, and to activate church security, but nobody is at the controls of the door lock. Has anyone else been trained in how to remotely lock the doors? Was a temporary replacement assigned to monitor the cameras and the locks? This is why we train (and exercise) our plans, so that we have a complete plan and contingency plans.

What do we do about the perpetrator that gets past the first and second layers of security? How will security engage them? Will concealed carry parishioners draw their weapons and shoot? What if another member of the security team is rushing the perpetrator from behind? Will they be caught in gun fire? Does the person rushing the shooter know where the concealed carry holders are? Do the concealed carry holders know where the rusher is?

Have you considered a perpetrator that comes in carrying multiple (hidden) guns? Just because they expend a magazine, it does not mean they have finished and need to take a few seconds to reload, they may have multiple weapons ready to go! What if security wasn’t trained to check for other weapons, and the perpetrator pulls out another firearm or even a knife?

These are just a few reasons why we train. Proper training is essential to making good decisions. When you train like you respond, then when respond, you will respond like you trained. This holds especially true when behaviorally profiling a potential perpetrator.

It is also important that the church documents ALL training that the safety and security team undertakes. Training records should always be kept up-to-date, and kept safe, in both written and computer documents. This is critical in protecting the church, especially if someone gets hurt or injured by the safety and security team, or if an active shooter does make it into the church and hurts or kills those attending. Both instances could potentially lead to litigation against the church. In the end, it save the church in a court case.

Tomorrow, I will discuss undertaking exercises to look for gaps in the safety and security plan. In conducting exercises, there are multiple safety measures that should be taken. I will also discuss ways to properly evaluate the exercise so that potential improvements can be identified. Until tomorrow, … Mark

To test, … or not to test?

I thought about many different titles for today’s post, but feared that many of you would not read this post thinking it was a test blog post.  Considering I am talking about testing, that would be very possible. I thought about “Testing” and “Test, Test”, I even thought about titling this post “Test, 123, Test, 123”. While it may seem silly, there is a major reason to push testing of a church safety team.

If you have been reading my blogs, you may have already identified the risk, recognized any vulnerabilities, created a church safety plan, and implemented policies and procedures. You might have even created a viable church safety plan, but your work is still not finished (by far).  Over the next few days, I will be sharing information that will strengthen your church security even more. Today I will start with the basics.

In emergency management, we use a process known as the Preparedness Cycle to ensure that we are better prepared. The preparedness cycle, in its simplest form takes the plan (that you built) and tests it for flaws, then corrects any flaws. While it seems simple, my explanation is an oversimplification of what needs the preparedness cycle really is. The graphic below provides a basic idea of how this continuous cycle works, and I want to give credit for the graphic to FEMA’s Emergency Management Institute in Emmitsburg, Maryland.

The preparedness cycle starts with creating a written plan. Once the plan is completed, then the church should organize for the implementation of the plan. This includes policies and procedures and creating the church safety team. The trustees, or whomever is responsible for purchasing should gather the needed equipment. This can be anything from security clothing, medical supplies, security cameras, electromagnetic door locks, or a whole host of other equipment. When that equipment is in place, then the safety team should train. That training should focus on what they should do in a variety of situations, as well as how to use any equipment that may require training (e.g. security camera’s, electromagnetic locks, and other equipment). If the plan calls for purchasing equipment over time, then you may consider training each time a new piece of equipment is installed. Once all of this is done, then it is time to hold an exercise (a test run) to test everything in place. After completing the exercise, then it is time to pick apart what went right, and what went wrong. You then start the planning process over again by taking corrective action to address what went wrong.

As I mentioned previously, over the next few days I will get more in-depth about this process. I will discuss how often this should be done, and even how it should be done. Preventing death and destruction in your church will be more than planning it once and forgetting about it. It is a continuous process, but if it saves lives, it is well worth it … Mark

Appropriate Response

Every time there is a mass shooting you can count on a series of events.

First the Media will report on it endlessly.  I certainly don’t mean to imply such a horrific event isn’t newsworthy, but the news cycle of the 24/7 cable news means that every 45 minutes they repeat everything they’ve been saying for the last 45 minutes.  The result is a constant drum beat that as Mark pointed out (See The media and mass shootings) tends to excite further violence.

Second, and quite positively, as people become aware of the danger of their situation they start looking for answers.

The Dallas area NBC affiliate reported in an article titled Praying for Protection While Packing a Weapon: Thousands to Attend Security Conference in Plano.  That  Prestonwood Baptist church in Plano Texas will be hosting a security conference.

Thousands of miles away the Maryland Sheriff’s department, about 60 miles north of Washington was teaching the same principle Mark covered in Your role if a shooter or bomber gets in.  Namely, use the hymnal or Bible in your hand and hurl it at the assailant.   (See: ‘Smack them with a hymnal’ ).

I think this illustrates that there are two responses we can have to the prospect of a mass shooting in our church.  The first, like the media which constantly seeks sensationalism, is to incite fear.  Fear is not a godly response, neither is it a necessary response.  Instead of being afraid, seek to be prepared.

Preparation is the second, and I think far wiser response.  Take the time to assess what you would do today in the event of a mad man coming into your church.  What would you do?  What would your pastor do? What can you do?  Make a plan, get some training: and be prepared.

But don’t be afraid.

Need some guidance? Contact us.