As churches grieve over the recent surge of mass shootings in public places, they may be worrying if their own buildings are safe. Now may be a good time for congregations to develop a church safety plan that will inform members on what do in the event of a violent crisis on the premises.
Church safety plans help congregations protect their members from the unthinkable. A good church safety plan takes into account your church’s building structure, hours of operation, daily ministries and activities and existing security features (alarms, electronic locks, cameras, etc.).
Here are a few simple steps congregations can take to develop their church safety plan:
1. Form a church safety taskforce
We United Methodist love to do everything by committee and church safety should be no exception. Form a group whose sole mission is to oversee the congregation’s safety concerns and emergency responses. Other emergency situations such as natural disasters, fire safety or medical emergencies can also be the purview of this taskforce.
As with all church committees try to be diverse and practical when deciding who should serve on the taskforce. Appoint at least one usher and member who works with children and youth. A representative from trustees should be on the committee and/or someone knowledgeable about the church’s property and insurance. Include the facilities manager or person in charge of building services. Look for members who may have helpful expertise or training in medicine, mental health treatment or law enforcement.
2. Consult with the appropriate professionals
Before it begins drafting a plan, the taskforce will need to consult local professionals and organizations that can help them better understand what to do in an emergency situation. Invite local law enforcement and first responders to visit your congregation to see your facilities and meet with your team. These professionals may have other suggested resources or training opportunities available to help your church create its plan.
Contact your district superintendent or annual conference office to see if they have any existing church safety resources or guidelines in place. Your conference may have a designated person or department in charge of developing church safety resources. FEMA also has articles, videos and webinars on security concerns tailored to faith communities. You might also contact your church’s insurance company to see if they have resources available. Church Mutual has an entire resource kit available on preparing your congregation for armed threats.
3. Conduct a detailed assessment of your church’s facilities
As you’re reaching out to local law enforcement for guidance, ask them to conduct a careful assessment of the church property to look for vulnerabilities. These assessments are typically free of charge. You may find that your church needs to update or improve its internal security features. By examining the property up close, law enforcement will be able to give you the best advise on how to keep it secure.
4. Consult with other churches
Chances are that other churches and faith communities in your area have already taken steps to protect themselves from armed threats. Talk to them and ask them how they developed their plans and what advice they might offer your congregation. You might also look online to find examples of other church safety plans.
5. Require taskforce and other church leaders to undergo training
There are a number of training opportunities available that can teach you want to do in specific gun violence emergencies. Many organizations offer their training in the form of videos or webinars to accommodate virtual learning. Here are few organizations that offer online or in-person trainings:
These trainings should be required for all taskforce members as well as church staff, ushers, children/youth leaders, and other ministry volunteers such as ushers. You might consult with local hospitals or medical centers to offer onsite first aid and/or CPR training, so that members can provide basic care in event of a medical emergency.
6. Consider different situations and scenarios
Your safety plan should consider different scenarios and possibilities so people know what to do in any situation. Make a list of all the activities that take place at your church on a given week: worship, Sunday school, daycare, fellowship dinners, scouting, choir practice, etc. Identify the persons who are typically in-charge at these gatherings and assign them roles in the event of an emergency.
Plan for different scenarios in which an armed attacker is either trying to break into the church or has already entered the premise. Identify the safest escape routes or places to shelter based on the situation. Take into account which rooms have their own locks and what parts of the building can be easily locked off from the inside.
7. Present plan for approval
Your church safety plan should be presented and approved by the church council before it is enacted. In the event implementation will require upgrades to building security or structural changes to the property, the Board of Trustees will also need to be consulted and approve the plan beforehand. After the plan has been approved it should be shared with and distributed to the entire congregation. Church employees, committee members, congregational leaders and volunteers such as ushers and Sunday school teachers should all have copies and be well-versed on the plan. New clergy and employees should learn the plan as part the process of getting acclimated to the new church.
8. Establish a process for evaluation
Even the best plans can always be improved upon. After implementation have a process in place to revisit it every so often (perhaps once every few years). If your church moves, undergoes major renovations, updates its security, or institutes other major changes, it should make appropriate adjustments to its safety plan.
No plan is fool-proof, but knowing what to do in the event of an armed threat could be the difference in saving lives and stopping an attacker before it’s too late. All of us should feel safe coming to church and safety plans are one way can feel prepared in the even of the unthinkable while still remaining an open and welcoming place to our communities.