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Two Prong Approach to Church Security

Two Prong Approach to Church Security

Two important elements of securing the people and property of your church are video surveillance and access control.

PEOPLE, PROCESSES and technology are all part of the mix when it comes to church security.

Two important elements of securing the people and property of your church are video surveillance and access control. Multi-Use Surveillance A good video surveillance system can serve multiple purposes. Along with providing a church with a means to monitor what's going on in its facilities, a video surveillance system can also help keep bad incidents from happening, according to Brian McAuliffe, director of Risk Management at Willow Creek Community Church in Chicago.

"A video surveillance system can be a deterrent to crime," says McAuliffe. "People who are going to try to do something are typically first going to look to for cameras and if they see any around, they are likely not to do it." Facilities-wise, this church serves a congregation of some 25,000, on seven campuses, ranging in size from 800,000 square-feet at its main South Barrington building, down to an average of 30,000 to 40,000 squarefeet in six other facilities.

All of Willow Creek's facilities are covered by video surveillance systems, according to McAuliffe. There are close to 500 cameras alone covering the main building, he reports, all of them made by Axis Communications, a network video solutions provider.

This camera array runs on a network powered by software from IPConfigure Inc. (www.ipconfigure. com/products/esm), a video surveillance research and development software company. Having one of the largest congregations in the country, Willow Creek spent "a couple hundred thousand" on their system, according to McAuliffe.

This included the development of a parallel network for handling data generated by the video cameras, "so as not to crash the existing network used by [Willow Creek] staff," he notes. McAuliffe describes the areas covered by Willow Creek's video surveillance system as being in line with those monitored in most church facilities.

In addition to having all entryways/exits covered, any rooms used for youth activities have, depending on their size, anywhere from one to several cameras, according to McAuliffe, because from a safety/security standpoint, "If something happens, chances are good it is going to happen around the youth ministry."

Safety and security also dictate the use of video surveillance in hallways, lobbies and other common areas. Next come bookstore and food-service facilities, secure rooms where offerings are counted, "and anywhere else you have money coming and going," McAuliffe says. Willow Creek also has a pair of cameras mounted in its parking lot. McAuliffe notes that available outdoor video surveillance systems include those that simply help a church keep track of what's happening in the lot, while others are more specialized license-plate readers that enable the church to document who is coming and going.

Active monitoring of feeds from nearly 500 cameras is an impossible task, McAuliffe notes. On weekends, though, "We do have four monitors with someone watching video from about 30 of the cameras in areas we are most concerned about," he says.

The Willow Creek system also allows monitoring from remote computers or cell phones. Video surveillance data is archived for possible future use. "We save all the video footage for 30 days, and then save the footage that had motion detected for another 30 days," says McAuliffe.

The system also allows users to save any particular video footage they desire and store it in a library. About four years ago, with prices of both hardware and software coming down, Willow Creek roughly doubled the number of video cameras it had in place and did the planning and installation work largely on its own. "Our IT [information technology] guys did all the cameras and the servers," McAuliffe says, with an outside contractor taking care of the wiring.

Do Your Research First

Baptist Church in Belton, Texas installed their video surveillance system themselves. "Nothing against professional installers; if you need them, use them," says Nathan Parr, operations manager at this 2,000-member, 115,000-square-foot church. But if they are in a state that allows self-installation of a video surveillance system (some don't), "Churches and their memberships are more than capable of doing it themselves,"

Parr notes, adding that "Reputable companies that supply system components will provide you with all the support you need to help get up and running." First Baptist Belton monitors all interior spaces within its facility, "at a level in which you cannot enter, or move around anywhere in the building, without being monitored at some point," says Parr. Its 54-camera array, associated hardware and software are all products from Video Insight, a unit of global electronics giant Panasonic.

When determining where to install cameras, "Our philosophy is to think like a bad guy' and figure out where he would want to hide and then make sure you have a camera pointed there," says Parr. Surveillance video is primarily used in a passive manner, reviewed as necessary, according to Parr. But it can also be used actively, such as in instances where an individual is being tracked, he notes.

For example, "One of the coolest instances of using cameras was when one of our senior adults, with early-onset dementia, left the building one morning," Parr recounts. "Using cameras, we were able to isolate which door they left through (the facility has 36) and ascertain which direction she went."

Churches looking for the equipment they need to implement and/or improve video surveillance systems have a couple of major resources to turn to for information, notes Parr. "Your research should start with security industry publications, like Security Today to find out about industry trends, and what the next big thing' is," Parr explains.

He cites Worship Facilities Expo (WFX), as another place to get the latest info on products and services; and from there, "It's mainly a matter of installing something that can be built upon and improved in the future."

About Access Control

Along with video surveillance, controlling access and keeping track of who has the keys to what, either to your entire facility or any of its components is another important part of the church security mix.

One way churches can address this challenge is to move from traditional mechanical key systems to electronic "smart-key" solutions, such as CyberLock Electronic Access Control Systems from Corvallis, Oregon-based CyberLock Inc.

Implementing a smart-key solution starts with replacing a conventional lock with a CyberLock cylinder, which is basically an electronic version of its mechanical counterpart, according to John Moa, director of sales at CyberLock. "You simply pull the mechanical core of the existing lock out and put our Cyber- Lock cylinder in," he explains.

Meanwhile, accompanying CyberKey smart keys are programmed for each lock; from there, when a CyberKey meets a CyberLock, the cylinder is energized, and an information exchange occurs between the two to determine if the key has access to that specific lock cylinder. If it does, the lock will open, with both the lock and key recording all associated events, including accesses granted and any unauthorized access attempts.

This is an easy, affordable retrofit that is ideal for churches, Moa notes. From a cost standpoint, "You're talking about an unobtrusive, simple install for which you are looking at maybe $200 per door," he notes, compared with hard-wired systems that can typically run anywhere from $1,800 to $3,000 per door. In addition to affordability, a couple of other qualities make this product particularly well-suited for the worship facility, according to Moa.

"The big issue we hear about from houses of worship is key control," Moa says. With CyberLock, "You can program what specific keys work where and for how long and if you lose one, you simply turn it off." CyberLock access control systems can be installed gradually. "You can start with just one room, and build from there, learning the system and growing as needed," says Moa.

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