When we think of church, we think of security—not of the guards-and-watch-dog variety, but of something a lot more intangible. We worship because we want to grow: our minds, our spirits, our lives, in a word, ourselves. Church helps us to do this in a safe place, one where we can be impassioned, inspired, vulnerable and, at times, weak. If we can’t feel safe at church, then where can we possibly go?
The reality is that churches face many of the same security risks that other facilities do: fire, theft, medical emergencies, burglaries, vandalism, and even violence. If we want to continue to keep our staff, members, children—and yes, even our physical assets—safe, we must think about what we are doing in the area of security.
Jim McGuffey, M.A., CPP, PSP, CPI, is the owner of A.C.E. Security Consultants LLC in Bluffton, S.C. One of his missions is to heighten security awareness in the church community, and he does so, quite comprehensively, through his website, http://www.churchsecurityconsultant.com. McGuffey says that one of the biggest mistakes that church leadership makes is believing that security is not an issue. “They make the assumption that nothing will ever happen in their church because nothing has ever happened in their church,” he says.
Can your church’s design help keep people safe?
Many security risks can be minimized during the initial stages of architectural planning: Can your facility be seen from the road? How are you controlling access to the building, and then within different parts of the facility, especially if you rent it out to community groups? How is the building configured so that children are protected from contact with strangers? What about your landscaping: do trees and shrubs provide hiding places for those who are up to no good?
For McGuffey, the only way to address these questions is by first conducting a thorough security risk analysis. This process can be broken down into two main parts: a risk assessment, and then the development of a risk management plan. A risk assessment, he explains, consists of determining asset value, the threats that could impact an asset, the likelihood of the threats occurring, their impact to the asset, and vulnerability or weaknesses that could expose assets to danger. (In this case, “assets” are defined as people, property, information and reputation.) From there, churches can construct their plan for risk management, which involves determining which cost-effective security strategies can mitigate the impact of the threats and hazards the church’s assets are exposed to. “Each church can be unique, depending on their location and the ministries that they are involved in,” he says. “This analysis needs to be done before you consider any products or services that you want to use to protect your assets.”
Part of the security risk analysis involves surveying any existing security policies and procedures: Have they been effective thus far? Should they be revised? Are both staff and members even aware of any policies that are in place, and if so, have they been trained on how to carry them out? McGuffey notes that many organizations—not just churches—fall down on this latter point: “They put a training program in place, they go through it once, and then they fail to revise the training program, to monitor it, to make sure it’s ongoing,” he observes. Ongoing training, he says, is crucial in the overall success of the security program.
For Tim Cool, project executive at the architecture and design/build firm Visioneering Studios in Charlotte, N.C., founder of Cool Solutions Group, a consultancy also based in Charlotte and the author of “Successful Master Planning: More Than Pretty Pictures” (iUniverse, 2010), limiting the number of access points helps churches to contain foot traffic, while at the same time making it easier to arm the security system. “Obviously, you’ve got to have enough exits and entrances to get people in and out of the building, but you can have more clustered areas with more doors and groupings, instead of a bunch of single doors all around the facility,” he says. This also makes it easier for visitors to find the church entrance, because it’s more or less centralized. “It’s a combination of practicality as well as security,” Cool adds.
Because most churches boast youth programs, and a significant number run full-fledged schools, their security strategies must take into account how they protect children. Once again, Cool advises limited access: “From an architectural perspective, you should create a check-in section where the kids’ spaces are behind it and you have one central access point in and out of that space so that it can be fully secured—so that strangers can’t come in and out of that space.”
Limited access should also be applied during off-times, or consequential use—again, in the event that churches rent out or lend their facilities to members of the community. This can be achieved through the use of access cards or security codes, which serve to cordon off specific areas of the facility that aren’t in use. “You can connect those into your room scheduling software or some other system where, if someone has reserved Room 101, it’s unlocked so that they can get in, but they don’t have access to any other part of the building,” Cool explains.
One especially practical aspect of access scheduling technology is that it can be managed remotely: “It’s been enhanced greatly to where you can have your door lock and door access system accessible via the Internet, off campus,” Cool adds. If someone shows up to use the building and the wrong doors are locked, they can contact the facilities manager who, from wherever they are, can unlock the doors remotely via a secure IP connection. That same facility manager can also receive alerts, via email, when someone enters a door that wasn’t scheduled to be accessed.
Exterior lighting & video surveillance
One element that is commonly overlooked—oftentimes because it’s addressed at the end of a building project, when budgets have been exhausted—is exterior lighting. Not only does this compromise wayfinding, but it also offers the potential for dark spots in the parking lot and around the outside of the building, creating convenient hiding places for anyone who wishes to do harm. Cool points out that today, many local utility companies offer monthly rental plans that include exterior light poles, the light bulbs themselves, and the equipment and manpower required when a bulb needs to be changed out.
“The beauty of [this utility company service] for a church is not only are you not paying the money to buy the poles, which could be anywhere from $3,000 to $6,000 to $10,000 each,” Cool says, “but you are also saving on your maintenance, because you don’t have to rent a cherry picker to go up and change those light bulbs.” He adds that in his region—the Carolinas—typical rental plans like these range from $20 to $50 a month, depending on the aesthetic quality of the light poles.
Adequate lighting, McGuffey notes, also minimizes the potential for exterior vandalism. Vandalism—both exterior and interior—is one of the most significant security risks that churches face, according to McGuffey. Good outside lighting and well-maintained grounds help to fight against this. Inside, staff members should get into the routine of locking doors and windows so that vandals can’t sneak into the facility when it’s closed.
For McGuffey, one of the biggest advances in security technology is in the realm of video analytics; specifically, Closed Circuit Television (CCTV). “Many of the original concerns involving clarity, recording and storage issues have been resolved and, in recent years, video analytics has made substantial progress,” he notes. In its simplest form, video analytics utilizes a computer to recognize shapes, patterns and trends, and sends alerts based on these activities—a useful tool, especially for larger churches.
Video surveillance, however, can be limited by poor architecture. To increase the chances of making this technology effective, Cool counsels churches to keep their corridors as open and expansive as possible, minimizing nooks and crannies where people could hide. “This way, if you are using security cameras, you get a full view with a limited number of cameras down major halls and arteries throughout the building, “ he explains.
The practice of keeping hallways wide open is also more practical when it comes to foot traffic. “It just makes more sense, if people are coming into the building it’s nice to have major arteries that they are flowing through so that they are not getting lost trying to navigate through,” Cool adds.
David Powell of C-Mor USA, a video technology development company headquartered in Germany with an outpost in Lake Forest, Calif., concedes that not all worship facilities are comfortable with employing video surveillance as a form of risk management. “There is a reluctance to go that route, more so in the churches, because it’s viewed as intruding on people’s privacy if there are cameras,” he observes. Architecturally, however, he says there is an argument for these systems. “Churches tend to be uniquely shaped, and they have an abundance of doors and windows. They [also] have limited staff to be able to watch all of the doors and windows all the time.” Video surveillance can do the job for church staff, 24/7.
C-Mor’s Network Video Recorder (NVR) is IP-based, enabling remote access. “It can sit anywhere: it can be in the same building, it can be in a different building or it could be in a different country,” Powell explains. The data from the cameras is fed over the Internet, via a Local Area Network (LAN) or Wide Area Network (WAN), to the NVR. “It’s in digital format to start with, and therefore is recorded in digital format, and it can record high resolution, or even medium or low resolution,” Powell says.
It’s difficult to overlook advances made in security technology, but McGuffey underlines that without solid policies and procedures, these systems don’t do much good. “There are a lot of products out there, but the most effective and cost-effective thing to do is simply [increase] overall security awareness among the church staff and the employees,” he says. “That is the No. 1 thing, and the most cost-effective step, that a church can take to improve security.”