Planning and mitigation works!!!!

As is becoming commonplace, I am a day late with my blog submission. I know that this blog keeps many of you informed. I apologize for being late (again)! Unless you do not watch the news, you know that my prediction last week of another mass shooting, almost rang true . I say almost rang true because the school, and those involved with protecting children in that community, had a plan. As soon as news broke, multiple people began to text me and call me about the incident. One of my university students (who has been amazed at my predictions) even asked if I was a prophet. While I would be honored to take that title, I can only say that I foresee when mass shootings will happen through following the statistics.

As I said in the last paragraph, the school and public safety community had a plan. Not only did they have a plan, but they had the resources in place to deal with such a situation. It is unfortunate that the shooter died, but that was part of that shooters own choice. They had a choice about bringing the gun to school, they had a choice regarding whether to shoot or not, and they had a choice on shooting at the School Resource Officer. The shooter had choices, but those he shot, and shot at, did not! The shooter in exercising his choices, did not allow his victims to have any choices.

Fortunately, the schools and public safety made choices long before the incident ever happened. The primary choice was whether to plan and implement mitigation measures, which they did. This community thwarted not only this attempt, but also the one before it at Leonardtown High School . By planning, only the Lord knows how many lives have been saved in just this one community.

The point I want to make from this: Churches also need to make plans and undertake serious mitigation measures. Some churches believe that a few firearms in the church (alone) are enough to protect a church. It is not, and this type of mentality may lead to a shootout similar to the one at OK Corral. In that type of scenario, you are creating an environment where innocent people may be shot, and possibly even killed. Serious plans need to be made to keep a shooter outside of the church. While there is no “one-size fits all” plan for churches, there are some basic concepts that need to be in place.

  1. Total situational awareness-take your head out of the sand and watch for something out of the ordinary, or dangerous, that might be evolving!
  2. Implement layered security-Identify multiple areas where a shooter can be denied entry and denied access to parishioners. Use those layers to make it harder and harder to get to their target(s) (such as a person monitoring the outside, greeters that know what to look for, ways of quickly securing doors, door film to stop entry, trained security teams, etc.).
  3. Train parishioners– Train everyone in the church on what they should do if a shooter gets past your defenses and the shooter overcomes all mitigation measures.

The end goal is not to kill someone with evil intentions; the end goal is to protect church goers. If it is possible for law enforcement (or even a security team) to take the individual(s) alive, that gives the church the opportunity to show this person God’s love, and to even lead them to the Lord later on. This could even be while they are in prison or even possibly a mental institution.

As I close, I look at the statistics again. The next shooting will be harder for me to predict. Why? Because a school district, local law enforcement, and a school resource officer did not ignore protecting their students. Additionally, the media has not provided nearly as much coverage about this incident or about how the shooter was stopped. Because of this, there is a good chance that the next mass shooting may be delayed. Then again, it may create a challenge to someone else who thinks the last shooter botched their own infamy. No matter what happens, I praise the Lord that no innocent students died in this latest attack and that more were not shot. I can only pray that more schools and churches learn from this latest shooting. Until next week, … Mark

Get off the fence!

If you have read my blog before, you know that I am a firm believer in preparing. Unfortunately, many church leaders have the mentality that it will never happen in their church. They bury their heads in the sand, while the enemy plans to come not only to the front door, but into the sanctuary.

In John 10:10 (NIV), Jesus says “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” While we have eternal life in Christ, we also have a biblical duty to protect those in our current world, who are not capable of protecting themselves. We are to be a sanctuary for those that believe or are coming to learn about the Lord. While some may be chosen to be martyrs, it is highly unlikely that God wants and entire congregation to do so.

We need to realize that evil comes into our houses of worship regularly. Whether it is a scam artist trying to get money under false pretenses, or someone the intention of coming in to kill and maim others, they are in our churches and on the property regularly. While we need to fulfill our mission in Christ by serving others and sharing the Word of God, we also need to make sure that we don’t go home to meet our Lord in an untimely matter. We need to keep being missionaries, but we should not do it in a foolish way. No matter what the mission field, whether in our home church, on the local street, a foreign land, or even in the streets of war torn country, we need to plan and prepare before we act.

I would like to share the stories I heard from other first responders after Hurricane Katrina and relate to planning and preparedness in churches. Many spontaneous volunteers decided to self-deploy to the area after Hurricane Katrina made landfall. Many of those individuals did not prepare or plan, they just went. In some cases, they had six bottles of water and a few protein bars to survive on. Some just had enough gas to get to the area, with no money or plans on how to get the gas they needed to get home. Because of their lack of planning and preparedness, these people essentially became part of the problem rather than being part of the solution. While the government was trying to rescue and save hundreds of thousands, they also had to worry about feeding, housing, and transportation for tens off thousands of people who had good intentions, but they did not plan or prepare for the situation. These were often referred to as the disaster after the disaster. In my opinion, churches that do not plan and prepare for mass shooters are the disaster before the disaster.

There are those that say that if something happens, it is God’s will, that it would not happen unless God allowed it to happen. Think about Lot. God allowed the evil one to tempt Lot, but he didn’t want him to die. The same likely holds true for us in most circumstances; God will allow Satan to tempt us, but He wants us to live, and to live life abundantly in our Lord Jesus Christ.

If you are still thinking about starting a program to protect the flock from evil, it’s time to get off of the fence! In James 1:8 (NIV) the Bible instructs us that “Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do”. While I am not usually one to switch from one translation to another to prove a point, I think that the Webster’s Bible translation explains this a little better. It states “A man unsettled in his opinions is unstable in all his ways.” Perhaps this should be a warning to you and your congregation to get off the fence. The time is now! Do something to protect your flock!

I feel bad about talking about this next part, but I thought I should mention it anyway. I am an avid study of the statistics of mass shootings, and I have become (unfortunately) rather good at predicting mass shootings (to a certain extent). Statistically speaking, we are nearing another mass shooting attempt in the next few weeks. Do not let these evil individuals have free reign, shut them down before they ever enter your church, school, or business! Take action! Make a plan! Get trained! Start taking those baby steps that will protect your church, and keep taking those steps until your church is hardened. Lock evil out!!!!

As I close, I wanted to say that unless another headline diverts me, I plan to get off of my soapbox, and get back to providing more tips on keeping your house of worship safe. I apologize for the last few weeks of preaching what needs to be done, but I felt led to make sure that God’s Children knew that this is not an issue that should be ignored. Until next week, I pray that the Lord keeps you safe and free from violence in your house of worship, … Mark

Another Active Shooter Last Week

We saw last week that an active shooter, a 15-year-old boy, caused more death and destruction in a school in Kentucky. According to the Kentucky State Police, the teachers and several students had recently undergone active shooter training. Unfortunately, it does not appear as if the entire school received the training.

Looking at this from my perspective, the lack of training to every student is a downfall in many school (and church) active shooter plans. Every person should be trained in what to do when an active shooter (or bomber) makes it to the parking lot or crosses the threshold of the doors. If one person does not know what to do, they become more vulnerable than those that have had the training.

It is for this reason that I implore churches and schools to make plans, to train everyone, and to practice that plan. The more it is trained and practiced, the more likely that those involved will not only act, but they will take the proper actions that will save not only themselves, but others too.
I think I hear some voices out there saying “We have layered security and a security team: Do we really need to disturb people with what to do, and then practice it?” The answer is YES you do! Why? When you practice something, you build up muscle memory and brain memory. If you have trained their brains and muscles to do something under calm conditions, it is more likely that they will do the right thing when trouble comes through the doors. Secondly, are you 100% confident that your layered security and security team can keep a shooter or bomber outside? I have known some of the best public safety officers and soldiers that have been surprised by active shooters and bombers! What makes you think that your team is superior to all active shooters or bombers?

The same principles we teach for churches, can be used in schools. Let me plainly state that if you do not prepare for an active shooter or bomber, and revisit your plans regularly, you are setting yourself (and all those you protect) up for failure. Do you want the next headline to be “20 dead, 18 Injured in Church Shooting” or do you want it to be “Would be Shooter Taken Down and Detained Before Hurting Anyone”? The decision is yours, and complacency and/or procrastination will not help you if, and when, the time comes, … Mark

What will it take??????

Over the years of teaching how to prevent and survive active shooters in houses of worship, the one thing I have noticed is that many churches do not want to prepare. They take a haphazard or complacent response to protecting the church. I have heard a myriad of reasons, with almost all of them being what I consider “bad excuses”. This has led me to wonder “What it will take for them to understand the importance of protecting their flock?”

Historically, scholars and public safety has seen if it happens in the rest of the world, it eventually comes to the United States. We have seen terror attacks in various places, especially Middle Eastern countries, and we say, “That’s horrible” or “What a shame”, only for it to happen on U.S. soil a year or two later.

We only need to think about the car and knife attacks that started in Middle Eastern countries, then it moved to France and England, only to eventually come to fruition in the United States a year or so later. If we think about it, we saw the terror attacks in foreign countries in the 1990’s, and then we saw these attacks come to fruition on September 11, 2001. Looking at this from a historical perspective, it doesn’t even need to be the same type of perpetrator. We have seen the same types of attacks come from radical Muslims, eco-terrorists, domestic terrorists (think Timothy McVeigh), and people that have evil in their heart.

ISIL inspired attacks cut the throat of a French Priest, bombings in Egyptian Mosques and Nigerian Mosques soon led to the bombing of a Minnesota Mosque and the church shooting in Texas. The perpetrators of these crimes were not from the same religion, or even have the same beliefs. Their hearts are hard, and they want to cause death and destruction. It sounds like Satan’s plan to me. As a professional in emergency management and homeland security, I often say “As it happens in the rest of the world, so will it happen in our country.”

Whether it is a mental issue, or a heart filled with evil, our places of worship are under attack! In looking at Carl Chinn’s deadly force statistics (in houses of worship), it is easy to see that deadly force incidents are on the rise. In 1999, there were 22 deaths reported in churches from a deadly incident, and in 2000, there were nine, followed by four in 2001. The number of deadly force statistics stayed under 50 deaths in churches per year, until 2008. Since 2008, we have seen a steady incline in deaths in church at the hands of others. The year 2017 was the deadliest ever recorded, at 177 deaths occurring at houses of worship. Since 1999, there have been 477 deaths that have occurred in houses of worship, stemming from 1691 total potentially deadly force incidents.

So, I ask you, what is it going to take to get your church to prepare? We have scriptural mandates to protect our flocks. We have seen a huge increase in deaths in houses of worship. We have seen mass killings in churches. We have seen mass bombings in houses of worship, in other countries (Prediction: coming soon to the U.S. like never seen before). Is it going to take a shooting or bombing at a church in your state? Perhaps it will take a shooting or bombing in your county? Of course, there are some that will wait until it comes to their doorstep! I tend to believe that there are those that won’t even take action then!

Many stand on “God will take care of us”. God does take care of His children, but He also expects us to help Him. If we are to rely solely on God’s protection, then why does Nehemiah 4:15-16 say: “When our enemies heard that we were aware of their plot and that God had frustrated it, we all returned to the wall, each to his own work. From that day on, half of my men did the work, while the other half were equipped with spears, shields, bows and armor. The officers posted themselves behind all the people of Judah.”

Similarly, in Acts 20:28-30, we are told “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them.”

Even Jesus provided guidance that we may need to protect ourselves. In Luke 22:36 Jesus spoke to his disciples “But now let the one who has a moneybag take it, and likewise a knapsack. And let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one.”

These are but a few verses that support protecting Gods people and the church. Think of all the words of David about how God prepared him to prevail against those that would attack Israel. Think of all the times God the Father helped his people prepare for war. Make no mistake, this is a war. This is Satan’s assault on the church, and he has changed it from a spiritual war to a combination of a spiritual and physical war. Food for thought, … how many people do you think have quit attending church because of the recent violence against churches? This is part of Satan’s plan!

People, I am shouting from the mountain top, as are many of my colleagues who teach church safety! I beg you, start preparing! I also beg you to look at the statistics that Carl provides. They can be very eye opening! Pastors, individuals in public safety, and the general public are begging for church protection. PLEASE, quit being complacent and do something! … 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