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

Choosing the church media representative

We all watched in horror when the shooting happened at Sutherland Springs Baptist Church. Much like waiting for a train wreck, many of us were glued to the television.  I found myself desperately hoping a spokesperson for the church would come forward and tell the media that God was still in power, and to not give glory or recognition to the evil person who committed this crime.  Perhaps this was not the perfect train of thought, but they were my thoughts nonetheless.

As I mentioned yesterday, a media relations person can help send the churches message, rather than the media’s message. In the public safety world, we call this person a Public Information Officer, or PIO.  This term and acronym can also be attached to the church. When choosing a PIO, you want to carefully choose the person (or persons) who will best represent the church.  Let me plainly state, you should avoid using the Pastor as the PIO for multiple reasons! One key reason is that in the event of a disaster, whether natural or man-made, they will have their hands full dealing with those that were affected by the incident. They will likely be needed elsewhere, rather than standing in front of microphones, appeasing the general public. They will probably be busy providing compassion, solace, and direction to those in the church. Depending on the circumstances, they may even be accompanying law enforcement to the homes of family members to provide notification of death. As I said, there are numerous reasons the Pastor should not be the PIO, and I have just touched the tip of the iceberg. This is not to say that they cannot give a statement (eventually), but their first priority is taking care of the flock!

When looking for a PIO, some attributes that you may want to look for include:

  • Someone who speaks well
  • Someone who dresses appropriately
  • Someone who can stay calm under pressure
  • Someone who is familiar with the congregants
  • Some who can speak with authority
  • Someone familiar with the Bible

While most of these are common sense, I still want to discuss the reasoning behind each. When you choose someone who speaks well and dresses appropriately, you are making sure that you portray your church in a positive light. If it is going to be a national news story, this is extremely important that we represent God in a positive light! In choosing someone who stays calm under pressure, it will be important that the person representing your church is not hysterical or babbling nonsense. They should in all likelihood be able to remain calm and focused even in the worst of situations. In knowing the congregants, you want someone who can give effectively generalizations (e.g. three people of a family of four, the parents of two children, the only child), but they can also provide specific details without releasing names or violating privacy. You also want someone who speaks with authority because you do not want the message being given to sound wishy-washy or weak; you want the information being given to sound like the person, and the church, stand firm on Gods healing, love, and promises. Finally, you want someone who knows the Bible so they can provide scripture that meets the situation.

Imagine a church PIO on national television that gave a press release that started like this:

“Hello, my name is Joe Davies, and I am the public relations representative for ABC Church. Let me start by quoting scripture: In  Matthew 10:28, Jesus told his disciples “Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. ” Today, several bodies were destroyed in this act of violence, but we are sure their souls are in heaven! …” Another fine example is this YouTube video of the Pastor and his wife speaking in Sutherland Springs.

Let me close today’s blog by saying the information I shared with you today is basic information. I will get more in-depth in the coming days. Of course, I will discuss what happens if the PIO is not capable of doing their job, where to learn how to be an effective PIO, and a whole host of other issues, as I said, in the coming days. Until then, please make sure that you keep Gods flock safe, … Mark

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

The media and mass shootings.

Since 2000, active shooter incidents have been steadily and substantially increasing.  The FBI reported that from 2000-2008, there was an average 6 active shootings that occurred per year. From 2008-2014, that number increased to nearly 15.9  incidents per year (see report). The latest report, which covers 2015 and 2016, show that the number rose to 17 incidents per year. Given the shooting incident we have seen in 2017, I believe we will see even more of an increase. This leaves many to wonder why these instances are increasing.

While I have no definitive proof what caused an increase in active shootings, I have a theory that someday I would like to explore in research. Until 2006, the national news media covered shootings, but in April of 2007 that all changed.  In April of 2007, a mass shooter went on the attack at Virginia Tech University. Soon, we heard the name of the shooter, and the 24 hour news media, the national news, and even the local news seemed to cover every aspect of the incident, including insignificant details. In my unproven theory, I believe this coverage inspired copycat shooters who were looking for fame. I also believe that social media plays a role in mass shootings, and there is research to somewhat support both of these contentions.

Recent research has led some, if not many, to believe that the key factor of increased active shootings is directly correlated to media coverage of these incidents. In a research report by Dr. Jennifer Johnston, and Andrew Joy, there were two theories that have been investigated and linked to mass shootings. They enter a long line of others that have worked to support the correlation between mass media covering every detail and an increased number of shootings. The two theories that are predominant are the Media Contagion Effect with the subcategory theory of the Copycat Effect.  One finding of this study that was extremely disturbing to me, is that for every three incidents of active shootings covered on television, at least one new incident is guaranteed, or copied, within 13 days.


More disturbing was research conducted by Garcia-Bernardo, Qi, Shultz, , Cohen, Johnson, and Dodds, studied the effect of social media on active shootings in schools. The correlations identified were in relation to the social media platform of Twitter. They reviewed millions of tweets about school shootings. When tweets about school shootings went beyond 10 tweets per million about an incident, then there was a 50% increase of a school shooting within eight days At nineteen days after a school shooting, if the amount of tweets went beyond ten per million, the potential for another shooting went up to 85%.  If tweets exceeded ten per million in the 35 days from a shooting, it was close to 100% likely that another active shooter in a school would occur.


I could go on and on about this research, and their findings, but it would do little to cure the problem. What in the media drives these individuals to take lives? Almost all of the researchers involved with active shooter/mass shooter research agree that they are looking for their 15-minutes of fame. How can we reduce these effects? It really is quite simple. First, we need to make sure that we don’t identify the shooter by name or with a picture in our social media. Yes, that is what I said. While the human mind wants to know every detail, those details are also what feeds, or at least partly feeds, the next shooter to act. If they see that there is no fame in shooting up a school, or church, or business, then they will look for that fame in other ways. The second thing is that the national and local media needs to quit using names, pictures, and all of the gory details about the shooting. In order to do that, they would have to put the good of the American public above the eventual money they receive from ratings.

Perhaps I sound a bit cynical, and I probably am a little bit. All I know is that nothing would make me happier than never having to do a seminar on preventing active shootings and bombings because they were a thing of the past; kind of like the plane hijacking in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Unfortunately, I do not see this happening in the near future, … Mark