WITH ALL THAT’S going on around the country, today more than ever before, worship facilities need to concern themselves with safety and security.
Reports of mass shootings and other threats to public safety monopolize the headlines, and sadly houses of worship are not immune. Despite these increasing threats, the current movement toward safer churches has been slow to catch on. Fortunately, new technologies can make increasing a church’s security profile a more efficient investment, both time-wise and financially.
The goal of every church should be for their overall facility to be in the best condition possible—not only because of the message it sends to potential threats but because it shows members and the public alike, that you care about what you have been entrusted with.
Therefore, every aspect of facilities management is important when it comes to safety: From the obvious issues with trip hazards because of frayed carpet, theft from vehicles in poorly lit parking lots, burglaries after hours because of poor locks and/or no alarm systems, to your major threats such as active shooters, fires and other emergencies.
Paul A. Lake, president and security consultant for Sentry One Consulting Group, Inc., in Shady Shores, Texas, says while schools were the softer targets for many years, the widespread response to harden schools since Columbine has significantly changed the school landscape, and he’s seeing the same shift in the beginning stages within the church arena as well.
“However, there are at least two major obstacles the church world seems to struggle with and it starts with the leadership,” he says.
First is the concept that “we don’t need a safety/security program because God is going to take care of us.”
“Secondly is the realization of ‘yes, we probably need a program, but how can we possibly make it happen? We are too small, we don’t have a budget, no one here knows how to develop a plan.’ It is this second area where I have carved out my niche by helping FBOs get past those hurdles.”
The first step and the core of all steps to follow should be to enact a realistic Emergency Response Plan. According to Lake every church should have a plan of action for what to do when things go wrong, regardless if they have a safety team on campus or not.
Lake warns against the gap that can exist where a well-written plan is developed without a trained security team in place. In this instance a “plan” typically becomes nothing more than a paper weight.
“A church needs to start with a plan, then develop a team that is trained to that plan, and have members of that team who will keep that plan current,” he emphasizes. “Technology, equipment, tactics and strategies are all great but if there is not a properly trained team in place to make sure all of it is used correctly when the ‘event’ happens, things will still go very bad.”
While active shooter training is important, Lake says that a church hanging their whole safety strategy on just that one thing has an unprepared safety program.
“Fire, weather, injury, illness, lost child, custody dispute, burglary, theft, child left in a hot car— these are things that should not be be viewed as an ‘if’ question, but a ‘when’ question on every campus,” he says.
Security expert Jim McGuffey, chair of the houses of worship committee for the ASIS Cultural Properties Council, says while more places of worship are making an effort to improve security by installing cameras and other security systems, some church leadership may be missing the mark by not conducting a more comprehensive security analysis prior to adding equipment.
Two years ago, McGuffey conducted an analysis of a church in Georgia under the auspices of ASIS International while serving as a chair for the Savannah Low Country Chapter. Since that time security at the church has continued to improve and the written report detailing the assessment continues to aid the church in receiving funds for added security measures.
McGuffy explains, “We adhered to the following process to ensure a comprehensive approach to improve safety and security. We determined assets requiring protection; we assessed possible threats; we conducted a security survey assessing vulnerabilities working from outside the facility to the inside; we reviewed policies and procedures, technology and training that was in or should have been in place to mitigate risk; and following the review, we prioritized risk and determined a plan to implement cost effective security strategies.”
This allowed the church leadership to apply cost-effective security strategies to those areas with the most exposure as funding became available. For example, changing door locks were a higher priority than adding cameras, so that came first.
Though for other churches, especially those with infant care, McGuffey notes that adding cameras to this room might be the priority.
Plenty of helpful technology is readily available that a church can utilize. Technology resources can be applied to identify vulnerabilities, strengthen security and create plans to respond to emergencies of any size.
For instance, there are web-based mass alert systems to help broadcast urgent information rapidly, and there are a host of easy-to-use rapid lock-down devises to help quickly secure rooms and buildings.
“There are protective films that can be applied to glass entry points making them difficult to breach, there are enhanced CCTV capabilities that make real time monitoring and post-event recording of activity more effective, and there is easy-to-use two-way radio equipment and even free phone apps that make communications between safety team members readily available and affordable,” Lake says. “There are also rapid deployment banners to help identify armed church security in the event of an active shooter response by police and a host of other types of tech available, if placed in the right hands.”
CyberLock is one company offering tech solutions that seem tailor made for worship facilities.
John Moa, sales director for CyberLock, says the CyberLock system allows worship facilities to manage who accesses certain areas of the building, and when.
“With CyberLock, worship facilities can allow community groups to access specific doors at specific times, while denying access to offices, storage rooms and other critical areas,” he says. “Churches can have complete key control throughout the facility, secure doors, cabinets, music rooms, community gyms, and Sunday School rooms, eliminate the need to re-key when keys are lost, stolen, or employees are dismissed, and increase security by scheduling and tracking all access activity.”
Pastor Adam Neel of Bellevue Baptist church in Owensboro, Kentucky, feels more secure since utilizing Cyber Lock, as it’s helped cut down the number of keys in circulation and forced those who do hold keys to be accountable for them.
“It gives us an enormous amount of peace of mind knowing that only those who have access permission can get into the children’s area,” he says.
Although most churches aim to maintain an open, welcoming environment, Moa notes this often leads to unlimited access to facility equipment such as computers, copiers, and expensive media tools.
“Because of this, churches are more susceptible to internal and external theft,” he says. “Ensuring the safety of congregations is of the utmost importance.”
HELP IS OUT THERE
Finding security solutions for houses of worship is an easier task in today’s market.
Ben Bolton, outreach & technical services coordinator for the Justice Information Technology Center in Gaithersburg, Maryland, says the National Institute of Justice has created an interactive PDF toolkit (available by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org) that will help local law enforcement work with houses of worship to evaluate facilities and create plans for preventing attacks and prepare for other catastrophic events.
“Staff from a house of worship wishing to access the toolkit should contact a local law enforcement agency, and have the agency request the Safeguarding Houses of Worship toolkit,” he says.
Another useful and free tool is this guide for the leadership of a church to help them evaluate their readiness to respond to an emergency. This “Checklist for a Church Emergency Management Plan” is available from The Church of the Brethren at www. brethren.org; another group called Church Security offers a free house of worship vulnerability assessment program at www.surveyessentials.com; and the Unitarian Universalist Association includes information on building security in churches at www.uua. org/safe/buildings.
Technology resources can be applied to identify vulnerabilities, strengthen security and create plans to respond to emergencies of any size.