Leader's Insight: Security Against Shooters
Churches are notorious for minimal security. And while acts of violence at church are rare, recent shootings at churches and schools beg the question: What can leaders do to protect their people?
1. Work with local police now.
Learn their plans and capabilities. Most police agencies have adopted an "active shooter" philosophy. This involves moving in quickly and removing a threat with lethal force, before an organized evacuation, or the arrival of a SWAT team or negotiators.
Provide for the police a survey of your facility, including:
- Blueprints and photos (digital and hard-copy) of every room in the church, that police can use to guide officers as they secure the church building.
- Emergency contact information for the church pastor, property manager, medical personnel, and members of the church's crisis-response team.
- Keys to outside and classroom doors.
- Shut-off points for gas, water, and electricity.
- Any knowledge of existing threats, including anyone against whom the church or a member has a restraining order.
2. Prepare your building and ushers.
Situational crime expert Ronald Clarke outlined these steps for avoiding an active-shooter incident:
- Increase early identification. A person with a gun drawn is an obvious threat. But attitude or body language can also suggest a threat. Greeters or church staff should extend a personal greeting to anyone who looks suspicious.
- Limit access. A shooter will likely arrive after the service begins. Close sanctuary doors once a service begins and train ushers to meet latecomers and guide them to designated seating areas.
- Reduce provocation. Train ushers to deny access, firmly but respectfully, to people who are unstable, agitated, angry, or intoxicated.
3. Learn how to do a lockdown.
If your local police department has an active shooter policy, a lockdown may be the best way to protect the congregation. During a lockdown, certain areas of the church are required to shut, lock, and barricade their doors until police arrive. Those inside during a lockdown should stay away from windows and leave room lights on to ease the police team's search. Before instituting such a policy:
- Determine which church leaders can order a lockdown and under what circumstances.
- Identify who can enter protected areas (such as the nursery), and how or if parents can retrieve children during a lockdown.
- Provide telephones or intercoms that allow each lockdown area to communicate outside the building.
4. If a Shooter Gets In …
It is critical for leaders to be decisive. If the gunman targets a pastor or some other leader, those most visible should draw attention away from the congregation.
- If the shooter targets the congregation, direct confrontation is essential. This is dangerous, but you can improve your chances by distracting the shooter, yelling from multiple directions, and tackling him from behind.
- Call 911 as soon as possible. Police will want to know the number of shooters, location of suspects, types of weapons, possible traps or explosives, and location of sensitive areas such as Sunday schools or nurseries. Stay on the line in order to provide real-time information to police on the scene.