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

“We don’t need no stinking paperwork!”

Yesterday, I discussed how to choose which mitigation measures are best for your specific circumstances. Today, we will discuss implementing those measures. Too often, the committee gets to the point of choosing mitigation measures, and they think that they have completed their tasks. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

Once the measures are in place, some type of policy or procedures should be written. Without some form of written guidance, everyone will do their job they way they think it should be done (rather than way the committee thinks it should be done). As an example, after the church has installed electromagnetic locks and security cameras, if the person managing those items does not have direction of what they should do, they may quickly lock a gunman out, but fail to alert everyone that there was a threat at the door. Similarly, if a policy is not in place, some security members may lock all doors but the main entrance, while another individuals does not lock any of the doors, and yet another locks all doors, including the front door. There is also the possibility that  one door greeter may use behavioral profiling (to look for threats), while the next greeter may want to check everyone for guns (through a pat-down) and to check everyone’s purses and backpacks.

When writing policy, it does not need to be complicated, however it needs to be in place before the mitigation measure is fully implemented. An important part of writing policy and protocols is to be cautious when writing policy, to make sure that the policy does not violate any insurance provisions, thereby voiding their insurance policy. This would not be in the best interest of the church, or those that attend it.

Some may ask what would violate an insurance policy. One example that may violate your church’s insurance policy is an armed security team, or perhaps a group of organized concealed carry holders. Before putting a policy or procedure in writing, the committee should probably check with their insurance company to better understand what is and is not allowed. In some instances insurance companies may deny an organized concealed carry group, while in other instances the insurance company may want them trained to their specifications.

One church I am familiar with worried about the insurance implications, and wrote a policy that did not form a concealed carry team, but rather discussed carrying a concealed weapon in church. The policy stated:

As you can see from this statement in their policy, the church did not officially form a team, but they covered the issue. They also covered themselves legally. By inserting this statement, they put the responsibility on the person carrying a concealed weapon.

When writing policy and procedures, it is important to realize that it does not need to be complicated, but, it needs to spell out what should be done and who should do it. It is preferable to address every job that requires human intervention. There should be a job specific policy for each different group or area of responsibility. In other words, there should be a policy and protocols for the greeters, the security team, the person monitoring the security camera’s, and any other job that may be required to mitigate risks. These policies should be put in a binder , then everyone who commits to keeping the church safe and secure knows what their role is. Each person that is tasked with doing a job that mitigates risk should also be given a copy of the policy and procedures that directly affect the job they will be doing.

Many times committees will go overboard when creating policy and protocols. An acronym to remember is KISS. In the fire service we were taught this regularly. For those that don’t know the meaning of this acronym, it is “Keep It Simple Stupid”.  Keeping it simple allows everyone to easily understand their role.

Tomorrow, I will share a template of simple policy that could be easily adapted to your church. Take care and God Bless, … Mark


Let’s do this!

Yesterday we discussed identifying which risks your church might be most vulnerable to, and how we should look into mitigation measures. Unfortunately, we need to realize that mitigation measures will often be based on a budget that the church has set. In some instances, the church may set large budgets, while in other cases, there may be no budget at all. Even when there is no budget, mitigation measures can still be implemented.

When looking at mitigation measures, you should look at the cost effectiveness of that measure. To describe this, I will use mitigation measures for church security against an active shooter as an example.  In this example, the church will have under 100 people that attend service every Sunday, and 20-30 people attend on Wednesday night. Mitigation measures identified could include locking all but the main door, trained greeters at the main door, security cameras, security film on the front door (glass window), locking all doors after the service starts, electromagnetic door locks, an unarmed Safety and Security Team, concealed carry card holders in the congregation, a hired security team, and hired law enforcement. These were all of the mitigation suggestions made by the sub-committee, who also gathered the price of each, and they are bringing this information to a full committee meeting.

  • Locking doors- $0.00
  • Trained greeters at the main door-Training of 10 people-$200 (one time expense)
  • Security cameras-Four cameras and DVD drive to record-$375 (one time expense)
  • Security film on the door windows-$385 (one time expense)
  • An electromagnetic door lock-$125 (one time expense)
  • Unarmed safety and security team-Training for 15 people- $500
  • Concealed carry card holders in the congregation-$0.00 (volunteers)
  • Hired security-$50 per hour (per person)
  • Hired law enforcement-$85 per hour (per person)

While the costs are made up, they should be close to what would be actually charged. Looking at these costs, the church needs to look at their budget, and do a cost-benefit analysis. Many of these costs are a one time expense, or one time per year cost. Secondly, they need to determine what their budget is, and compare it with an analysis of what their return on investment might be. Finally, they must evaluate what is needed, based on how probable the risk is. So if there is a high probability of an active shooter, then they may want to hire two or three police officers (if they can afford it). If the probability is low, then they may want to stick with in-house mitigation measures.

It is also important to note that mitigation measures can also be implemented over a period of time. Still using the example above, they may determine to lock all of the doors, to implement the Safety and Security Team, and integrate the Concealed Carry card holders into that team as a first step. They could then choose to spend a certain amount per year (over 5 years) for security mitigation measures, or they could be implemented as the money comes available. In both of these instances, it is important that future purchases for mitigation measures are prioritized based on what is most needed first, rather than choosing what you can afford as time goes on. By prioritizing them based on the most effective, then the Safety and Security Committee will not be lulled into a false sense of security.

Of course, the committee will need to discuss all of these measures and determine which will be most applicable to their situation. Once it all the measures has been discussed, then a vote should be taken. Even after deciding which mitigation measure to implement, the Safety and Security Committee is not finished, there is still more work to do! We will discuss the next step tomorrow; implementing the plan. Until then, stay safe, … Mark

Hiding-Run, Hide, Fight

While some will run from an active shooter that has gotten into the church, others may not be able to get out, and they may need to hide. Hiding sounds like an easy task, but it could prove difficult when gunshots are ringing out around you..

Of course, you can hide behind walls, but there are a few things to remember. First, most walls (unless a masonry wall) do little to stop bullets. Having said this, if you can find something solid to hide behind (e.g. like a metal or wooden desk, under a wood based table), then it will again increase your chances. In most instances, if you are hiding well enough, and you are quiet enough, the attacker will not know you are there. It is safer to hide behind a wall where they may not see you is safer than not hiding at all. The exception is if they are familiar with the church. Someone familiar with the church will probably know all of the potential hiding spots.

If you do hide in a room, you should do your best to secure your immediate area.  This may include locking the door, and if it can be done quietly, move objects in front of the door so that if they attempt to kick it in,  the door with items against it should keep them out. If at all possible, quietly barricade the area using desks, filing cabinets, furniture, etc. After you finish locking or barricading the door, NEVER position yourself directly behind the door, especially if it is a hollow core door.  This is a recipe for death in an active shooter situation. Hollow core doors won’t even stand up to a fist, and a bullet probably would not even slow down after going through most hollow core doors.  If it is a glass door, and the shooter hasn’t noticed it yet. shut the lights off (like it is not occupied), and hide out of site of the glass. DO NOT stack furniture or filing cabinets against a glass door, because this will tell the shooter you are there.

Once the door is locked and/or blocked,  turn off the lights. You want to give the impression to the shooter that nobody is inside the room, so he shouldn’t waste his time trying to get in. If possible (without drawing attention to the huddleshooter), close the shades or curtains, and stay out of the view of those windows. If possible, call 911, but don’t do it if the shooter may hear you talking.

Keep quiet, and keep all of your technology quiet. Shut off or turn cell phones to silent mode. If you have a computer running, hold the start button so it shuts down without making a sound, if you are a volunteer fireman (or someone else carrying a pager), shut it off. Think of anything that might make noise in that area, and shut it off. You do not want to alert the shooter that someone is in that room. If possible, lay on the floor.

It is also important not to huddle in a group, but spread out. Recent research has shown huddling together allows the shooter to do more damage because they shoot into a crowd and injure more people with less effort. When  bunched up, the shooter is at an advantage.

In tomorrow’s blog, I am going to delve into behavioral profiling. Behavioral profiling is easy if you know what you are looking for, and it can give you an exceptional advantage in being identifying an active shooter in church, or in the parking lot before they come in, … Mark

Active Shooter – What should we do?

I have many church leaders ask “What should I do if an active shooter gets into my church”.  While it is a horrible thing to imagine, there are things you can do to increase your chances of surviving. The first thing that I would like to do is refer you to the Run, Hide, Fight video. This video was created by the City of Houston, and the Department of Homeland Security. It provides some very good basic tips on how to survive an active shooter situation. I strongly urge you to watch this video before you continue reading this blog.

Hopefully, you have now seen the basics of what to do in an active shooter situation, I want you to imagine, or look at, your church and ask yourself a few questions. How can I escape? Where could I run to? Where is the appropriate place to go if you do escape? You should begin considering areas that will physically hide you, and an area that will put a barrier between you and any projectiles coming your way.

While there are many self-proclaimed ballistics experts out there that may say that I am wrong, I am a firm believer that even if it only slows the projectile down, it gives you a better chance of surviving. This will depend on the caliber and ammunition they are using, but if someones shooting at me, I am not going to stand in the open when I could be behind cover.

Having said this, hiding behind objects that offer no stopping or slowing power will not work. Plain sheet-rock walls,  hollow-core doors, paneling walls, and other easily penetrable construction materials will provide little cover. An easy way to guesstimate if an object is potentially sound enough to stop a bullet, is to imagine what a hammer with a full swing would do to that object. If it will smash and go through the object you’re considering, then that is not a good place. If it would cause very little damage, then you probably found the right place!

So back to considering your church: Do you have a dumpster to hide behind? The steel in a dumpster should slow or stop a bullet, depending on the caliber used. What about an brick or block wall? Most bullets will not penetrate brick or block walls! Are there cars in the parking lot to hide behind? Hide behind them.  Do you have large rocks or boulders outside? Hide behind them. A church bus, a church van, even a church garage or shed might work. Sitting at my computer, I cannot tell you where your best places to hide are, so you are going to have to make that decision.

Depending on the circumstances, it may be better to fall to the floor, and then use those solid wooden pews as cover. Anything that puts a substantial barrier between you and the shooter is a “good thing”! If the shooter is moving up the aisle, there is always the option of crawling under the pews and working your way to the back of the church, or towards an exit door. If you do get to the back of the church, or an exit door, you might be able to escape behind the shooter, or hide behind them. I have attached a video to this blog. This is a scene from the instructional video that Saving Lives and Souls is creating and this instructional video should be out in July of 2018. This should give you a better idea about crawling under pews and how to possibly get close to an exit.

It is important to note that you will have to make the decision what to do. In order to make that decision quickly, you have to be in a situational awareness mindset. Know your surroundings, and regularly play scenarios out in your mind. Remember, there is no guarantee what will work as cover after you escape, and what will not.  I am only providing these tips so you might realize that you have more options than when you started thinking about surviving an active shooter.

Once you run from the area, and you are safe, call 911! Even if you saw someone else on their phone, it does not mean they were calling 911. They may have been calling loved ones. Perhaps they called 911, and  the call may not have connected. As someone that served in public safety for over 25 years, I can tell you that when the dispatcher tells us there are multiple calls coming in, it lets first responders know that it isn’t a hoax or prank call. While we may be en route with the first call, multiple calls add even more urgency to the response.

I could go on and on, but then I would not get this information out on schedule. In the near future, I will be sharing more information on how to survive an active shooter. Remember, in this blog, I only can give you options that you may not have thought of. Now it is time for you to do the work and come up with a game plan. Do you think that your favorite sports team goes into a game without planning strategy? Then why would you ignore keeping your church safe from an active shooter? If you work at it now, you may be able to save yours, and many other peoples lives in such a situation. Thanks for reading, … Mark