The recent tragedy at a synagogue in Pittsburgh has caused many Austin area churches, synagogues and other places of worship to consider the security and safety of their congregants, campus and facilities.
Many churches are calling us and asking for security assessments – which we provide free.
Historically, churches have been “safe places” that welcomed all. As we’ve all seen, that has changed, with bad actors no longer making houses of worship the safe havens they were once known to be.
Unfortunately, churches now must be aware of break-ins, active shooters, and physical altercations. Here are some tips to help:
Conduct a risk assessment. Many community law enforcement agencies will help. Or contact us or any reputable security company. They’ll be happy to do a physical site survey, ask questions to learn more about your situation, and make recommendations that are sure to help.
Develop a security plan. Your plan should address “what would we do if” and then fill in the situation. As an example, what will we do to prevent active shooter incidents? What will we do if a shooter is on campus? What will we do if we have a break-in? And don’t be afraid to get help. Call us or local law enforcement agencies.
Form a church security team. Find volunteers with a public safety background and use them as part of your volunteer security team. Arrange to train them and schedule them to be available at services and key events. And don’t be afraid to conduct background checks on staff members and key volunteers.
Safety in numbers. Don’t leave a staff member or volunteer alone in a building, and never leave an unoccupied building open.
Control access. Most church buildings are used by many people. This can make it difficult to control opening and locking up of buildings. Install doors that automatically lock when closing. Used electronic access control readers instead of keys.
Community awareness. Train staff and volunteers about your church security plan. Take advantage of their eyes and ears to spot and report on unusual or suspect activity.
Station greeters outside in the parking lot, or where people come onto the property. When they spot someone they haven’t seen before, they should give the person a friendly greeting and ask for their name. That puts a potential bad actor on notice and lets the bad actor know you’re aware of them.
Use earpieces and radios to increase communication throughout your church. Communication is key in active shooter and most other security incidents. Outfit as many people as practical with communication devices – ushers, greeters, worship coordinators and medical response team.
Install a security system. Make sure it is a “smart system” that programmed to automate certain functions and send you real time alerts about things like door left open, when the alarm is off or activated and much, much more. Talk to us about affordable and practical smart security options.
Identify lock down procedures. Figure out the best ways to protect church community members in the event of a hostile situation, especially in kid’s areas. Get a security system that will allow you to lock down certain areas from the control panel or your smart phone or any internet enabled device.
Practice. Rehearse with staff and the church security team. Practice the elements of your security plan, just as you would a fire drill. Your response to hostile situations is crucial and its best to practice what you’d do in the event of an emergency.
Make sure your buildings and grounds are well-illuminated with plenty of proper lighting.
Pray. Pray for the safety of your community, campus and all. Prayer works.