Best Practices for Improving Security at Houses of Worship
Houses of worship may seem like sanctuaries from common security threats and so security providers must address potential objections unique to the market.
Editor’s Note: Although churches, mosques, temples and other religious venues are not necessarily Campus Safety’s target audience, we often get contacted by houses of worship interested in new and improved ways to ensure security for their members.
In light of the horrible tragedy that took place Sunday at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, claiming the lives of 26 innocent parishioners, here is an article on worship facility security from our sister publication Security Sales & Integration.
“Why would you possibly need security in a church?” When discussing security for houses of worship (HOW), this is a very common response.
Followed by: “God will protect us, we don’t need security,” or “[Implementing security measures] would scare our current parishioners and make the church feel unwelcoming to potential visitors.”
These objections are certainly not the type that a security professional will encounter in other settings. But consider that in 2014 there were 176 deadly force incidents documented at churches and faith-based organizations in the United States; there were 24 incidents in which the pastor or priest of the church was directly involved (of those, six died in the altercation or committed suicide); and there were four documented attempted abductions of children (statistics from Psalm 144 Church Protection Services).
A concern that must be addressed immediately is the concept of minimizing church flow disruptions. Church flow encompasses the existing processes and procedures in all areas of the church, to include the roles of all church personnel and volunteers, including ushers, greeters, maintenance, childcare workers and pastoral staff.
Let’s talk about what’s involved implementing and/or working with a volunteer security team, hereafter referred to as the Church Protection Team (CPT); but keep in mind that even if houses of worship administrators outsource to paid security officers or hire security integrators to install systems or consult with church leaders, the following concepts and considerations should be heeded.
The single biggest contributor to church flow disruptions is poor communication and the director of the CPT not understanding the organizational structure of the church staff. It is critical for the director to get together with the church staff and have a fundamental understanding of the duties of each staff member.
This will prevent confusion, wasted time and countless frustrations. The CPT should always meet at least 35 minutes before service. During this time, zones are assigned, pertinent information is passed on and radio checks are performed.
During this meeting, the director should apprise the team of any special events, circumstances or possible threats. CPT officers must know radio procedures, all of the zones and have a clear understanding of their roles and responsibilities within their assigned zone.
CPT officers must know when to use discretion and when to follow mandated orders and procedures. If a new and/or inexperienced officer begins to make unilateral decisions, this can lead to a breakdown in systems. Certainly, in a crisis or active situation, an officer will have to take command and control of the situation and changes will be implemented as needed until the situation is resolved.
However, for common events, if an officer believes an existing procedure needs to be modified, a memo should be drafted and submitted to the director and the chain of command should be followed. It is critical that all church staff and volunteers know to always notify the director if there is any unusual activity of any kind.
The director can then decide if CPT needs to get involved or if any church staff needs to be notified. All CPT members should be aware that they are not expected to know everything, but they are expected to know who to go to for answers and who to direct the congregation to if a question or task falls outside the purview of security and safety considerations.
If the director begins to have problems with scheduling, to include a lack of volunteers, this needs to be communicated to the senior pastor as soon as it starts. If the church has more than 50 members, there should always be at least three CPT members on duty; too few officers will potentially cause issues and almost certainly disrupt church flow.
House of worship market consultant Psalm 144 Church Security Seminars teaches small- to medium-sized churches how to implement proper people and procedures to create a safe and welcoming atmosphere; while maintaining a proper level of command presence and needed vigilance through purposeful security planning.
While the focus in on people and procedures, technology must also be implemented. Most small churches have a minimal budget; however, church, temple or mosque leadership speak to a security dealer that can perform assessments and install cameras and an alarm system.
Having said that, if the church truly cannot afford a security system, then perhaps they can be advised on utilizing alternatives from proper signage, to dummy cameras to low-cost standalone window mounted alarms. This is not ideal, but it is at least one small added layer of protection.