Church Security: What Are You Doing to Protect Your Congregation?

Imagine the following scenario:  It is Sunday morning, and 15-minutes after your service begins, a deranged, and heavily armed, gunman enters your church.

Who will be in your lobby to intercept him? Are you confident in that person’s or team’s training on how to respond? Have they practiced the appropriate response so that their adrenaline rush does not overpower their knowledge?

The thought of having an active shooter enter a church during a service/activity is sobering. Most church leaders we have spoken to have discussed the issue, and come up with some sort of plan, but many are not confident their plan is good enough in the event a gunman actually visits.

The church insurance experts on the Merriam team have been studying this issue for several years, consulting with a variety of sources, and even sending one of our staff to a multi-day seminar on preparing for an active shooter. Through this education we have learned, unfortunately, that there is not one universal plan or behavior that can best protect a church. Rather, there are several principles to keep in mind while constructing your plan of action. Because each church has a different geographic location, technology, floor-plan, and staffing availability, each congregation must develop its own unique plan in response to an active shooter, or any similar threat.

Here are some principles to keep in mind as you plan:

  • Designate one or two responsible church leaders to oversee the process of formulating the plan. This person does not have to do all the work, but can quarterback the collection and distilling of relevant information and report back to the church leadership team.
  • Have your goal be a one or two page training protocol on what to do if an active or potential shooter enters the church.
  • Determine to whom the training/protocol applies. Most churches do not train the congregation, but rather certain staff and volunteers.
  • Consult with local first responders: police, safety officers, and so forth. Many first responders have been through extensive training for this type of situation and are happy to educate you and make recommendations based on what they perceive as your church’s vulnerability.
  • Prioritize your responses based on potential situations:
    • Evacuate—a good option if the shooter’s location is known. Most shooters act alone.
    • Communicate—to police and people in the building. Keep in mind the average police response time is 6 minutes.
    • Lockdown—sometimes an excellent response, but it also keeps all the potential targets from escaping the lone shooter.
    • Engage—having armed staff is not always necessary to stop a shooter. Further research of this option, considering your church’s situation, is highly recommended.
  • Set a schedule to review the training/protocol with the relevant staff (at least) twice annually. This will help ingrain the protocol so it can become a knee-jerk reaction under pressure.

Are you concerned your congregation may not be well-protected? At Merriam, we believe that prevention is the logical extension of insurance. Contact us to learn more.

James Dick, CPCU, AAI

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