Protecting Houses of Worship in Turbulent Times

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On March 14, 2018, we watched as thousands of students across the country joined in marches, and moments of remembrance and silence in response to not only the Parkland, FL school shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, but for all acts of violence against schools, churches and other organizations.

At Marjory Stoneman Douglas, two walkouts were planned. Citing safety concerns, student government officials and administrators urged students not to leave campus, but to walk to the football field with teachers. Yet some students balked at the idea of a chaperoned walkout, saying they wanted to get off campus and spread their message to the broader public. (source: LA Times)

Catastrophic acts of violence continue to plague our nation. Recent events have shown us that violence can occur at anytime and anywhere. There is no time like the present to increase security measures at your organization.

From simple steps any organization can take to in-depth emergency response planning, preparations and actions have the potential to save lives. Start by completing a vulnerability assessment with a professional to understand the strengths and weaknesses of your people, facility and grounds.

Many believe that training and arming those in trusted positions may keep those within safer. Whatever your point-of-view, and as a best practice, anyone carrying a concealed weapon who is not part of a formalized armed security team should not be carrying a weapon on behalf of your organization or while serving your organization. If you choose to allow for concealed carry, members and visitors should be carrying on their own behalf and in the interest of self-defense, thus bearing responsibility for their own actions.

“When you ask or allow individuals to carry a weapon on behalf of your organization or while serving your organization, much of the responsibility and liability for their actions transfers to your organization.”

Church Mutual, 2018

Only highly trained individuals be allowed to carry a weapon as part of a formalized security team.

As noted in an article on Armed Security, from Insurer Church Mutual, they recommend that policyholders use an armed security team comprised only of active or off duty law enforcement or military personnel. A contracted security team may also be a possible solution, especially if the team maintains appropriate licensure, insurance, and training standards. Generally, an armed security team of un-trained volunteers is the least desirable option because they often lack the training and experience to handle a weapon safely in a high-stress situation. For any security team, whether weapons are involved or not, it is highly recommended that you establish formalized policies and procedures.

Next, it is your organization’s duty to ensure team members are operating in a safe and responsible manner and within the bounds of your policies and procedures.

Team members must have the knowledge and expertise needed to complete the task at hand, and as such should receive regular training on policies, procedures, mock scenarios, and more.

Check local and state laws for any minimum training requirements. If weapons are involved, members should also receive weapons proficiency training. Your organization should document and retain records for all training received.

In addition to the wisdom of arming, and in examining all of the current arguments being made and solutions being suggested for this issue, they can be divided into two simple categories: First Look and Last Stand. The vast majority fall into Last Stand. The discussion around arming security teams, placing metal detectors, SRO’s, locks, lights, cameras, etc. in our schools, churches and businesses are all focused on limiting access and/or deterrence to the individual who would look to do harm.

VIDEO: Firestorm Chief Security Officer Jason Russell interviewed by Wood TV 8

These strategies are response-oriented and designed as a last stand for when the gunman is standing at the door. All of these tools can be helpful in part of a violence prevention program, but they are not the solution. They are a treatment for a symptom.

One of the greatest tragedies of the gun debate is that we use the word “only” too often. “There were only two deaths.” The number of shootings and deaths in the United States is truly staggering. It happens almost every day somewhere in the United States. It is important to remember that the “only” is someone’s family member. That family is devastated and will be forever more. The sad thing is most of these shootings could have been prevented.

Learn more about how to protect your congregants, volunteers and employees at Church Mutual and contact us at Firestorm to start your vulnerability assessment or to explore other resources and services.

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