Tree of Life Synagogue–Turned Into Spiral of Death
Note: The author has previously been responsible for protecting a large church that also included a school. The church was a tourist destination which made it more difficult to recognize potential risks. It was also a controversial pilgrimage site. The following is just to give the reader some ideas as they think about securing their facilities. I am going to use the term “church” to include all places or worship.
Decision-Makers: Are you more anti-gun or more interested in protecting those who worship at your Church, Synagogue, Mosque or Temple?
If the decision-makers for your church (and/or schools) are anti-gun and will not allow any weapons around or in your place of worship, you are quite literally at risk.
If the decision-makers for your church are not anti-gun and will allow specific well-trained armed individuals to help secure your church, then your level of risk just went down exponentially.
The decision-makers for your church should also hire uniformed, UNARMED security personnel to be visible on site as a sign that your church is being monitored against different levels of risk.
What Level of Force and Personnel is Required?
Unarmed Security Personnel: Churches can contract out security monitoring and unarmed security personnel from one of many security service organizations. The cost for these services are fairly inexpensive but they provide security visibility and send the message that you are serious about protecting your site and your worshipers. You should have this level of security on site during your days of worship and increased levels for special events. The security personnel must have direct access to local police resources as well as immediate access to your security designated individual or group. The unarmed security personnel are not there to engage a lethal threat but to be eyes and ears to detect a potential threat and communicate the threat to highly trained designated individuals and police.
Armed On-Site Personnel: The armed resources are very limited and extremely well-trained and licensed for concealed carry of a firearm. Most churches have retired military or police individuals that can fulfill this function. The best individuals would be worshipers who regularly attend services and blend in with the rest of the congregation. They are not a deterrent, they are first line of defense against lethal intrusion. Depending on the size and number of ingress/egress points of your facility, you should have one of these armed individuals at each major access point for each service or event.
Ushers/Greeters: Your ushers/greeters are a vital link in your protection chain as they are the most familiar with your regular worshipers and see everyone who enters and leaves. You should make sure that you have ushers/greeters at every access point. It is vital that the ushers/greeters are part of your operations plan discussed below. They must know how to respond to a threat and how to communicate with uniformed and armed on-site personnel as well as with local police and emergency resources.
Religious Leaders and other Liturgical Staff: Your religious leaders and other liturgical staff are also vital in your protection chain. They must all be well-trained in the ops plan as they may be instrumental in helping to provide emergency exits to the worshipers as well as for themselves. If they are well-trained, they can also provide a level of calm in the face of a chaotic event. They may also be the target of the attack so keep this in mind during your planning.
Local Police: Your local police are your BEST resource when you begin to develop your operations plans discussed below. They are also the ultimate protection for your site in the event of a lethal encounter. Your local police should always be involved in your security planning for special public events. They can help to monitor threats that may exist on social media and are also linked into State and Federal investigative resources that are way beyond your own capabilities. Many local departments can provide a “vicinity” presence for your large events without any charge to you. On-site presence is usually provided for a fee. You should engage your local police today, before you begin to even discuss your security plans. They can also provide EMS integration to round out your security services.
Create an Operations Plan Now!
Law enforcement routinely creates standard operating procedures for daily police operations and will create special operations plans for special events or events that are deemed to be an extraordinary risk. Your church must do the same! For your church, you need both levels of planning and if you are a tourist and/or pilgrimage site, it is imperative that you do so now.
IF YOUR CHURCH’S RELIGIOUS LEADERS AGREE TO PROVIDE REAL SECURITY BUT ARE RELUCTANT TO BE DIRECTLY INVOLVED, THEN THEY SHOULD APPOINT AN INDIVIDUAL OR SMALL GROUP TO CREATE, STAFF AND IMPLEMENT THE OPS PLANS! THE INDIVIDUAL OR GROUP DOES NEED THE AUTHORITY FROM THE RELIGIOUS LEADER(S) TO CARRY OUT THEIR RESPONSIBILITIES.
Daily Security Plan:
Generally most churches are not open 24 hours a day or are even available to public access 7 days a week. Your first task is to determine when your church and guests are most at risk.
Closed Times: For those times when the church facilities are closed, the risk to your worshipers are low but risks to your physical facilities may be high. During these times, you may want to engage in a drive and walk-thru service. A security service will provide personnel to drive by your facilities on a regular basis and can also provide a walk-thru service where they stop and walk the grounds to see if there are any suspicious activities. You should always update local law enforcement as to when your facilities are closed so if they spot any suspicious activities they will know that the facilities are supposed to be “quiet”.
Service Times: Most churches have established service times that include regular weekly services for various days of the weeks and times of the day. Most likely, these days and times will be the main focus of your security plan. You should be cognizant that your church may grow weary of focusing on security for these events as “nothing ever happens”! If nothing ever happens, then praise God! If something does happen, your regular service times will be one of the largest threats to your regular worshipers.
- Unarmed Security Personnel: You should have this resource visible to the public at least 2-4 hours prior and after the services. There should be sufficient resources to rotate to all parking areas and access points of your church. (They can also provide assistance to your elderly and handicapped to help make their presence seem less intimidating.) If you have off-hours monitoring and/or walk-thru services, make sure any incidents are communicated to the on site-supervisor and gone over before the start of the security service shift.
- All on-site security supervisors and personnel must be intimately familiar will the site and all access points.
- They must be trained on what the services entail and when to expect various comings and goings of the staff and worshipers.
- They must all be trained on how to assist in evacuating worshipers and staff in the event of an emergency.
- They must also be trained on how to contact the local police and EMS providers.
- All on-site security supervisors and personnel must know who the armed personnel are that are on-site and how to communicate with them. They must also know who the religious leaders and liturgical staff are and what their roles are in the event of an emergency.
- Ushers/Greeters: They should be well-trained on their monitoring and emergency response rolls.
- They should be trained on how to monitor visitor’s and what they are bringing into the facility. (You may want to ask that all packages and bags be inspected on entry.)
- They must know the emergency exit points and how best to direct attendees to those exits.
- They must know who the on-site armed personnel are and how to communicate with them. They must also know who the religious leaders and liturgical staff are and what their roles are in the event of an emergency.
- They must be trained in assisting the evacuation of the facilities in the event of an attack.
- Religious Leaders and other Liturgical Staff: These people will generally be the focus of the service and may actually be the target of an attack.
- The first priority is to establish an exit plan for these people to insure that they can safely and quickly be removed from harms way.
- This group must be well versed in the ops plan and know the roles of everyone involved in the ops plan.
- This group must have access to communications that will allow them to communicate with unarmed and armed on-site security personnel, ushers/greeters, and local police and EMS.
- This group must be trained on how to provide access to public address systems and other site communications facilities to security and police.
- Worshipers will naturally look to these people for leadership in a time of crisis so they need to be prepared to lead during a high stress time. The on-site armed personnel can also provide a high level of leadership in the event of an emergency.
- Armed On-site Personnel: These resources must be highly trained on emergency response and firearms use and preferably have law enforcement or military service backgrounds. They are your first line of defense in the event of a lethal attack. They will be the only thing standing in the way of the death of a religious leader or worshiper until the police can respond 3-5 minutes later. Preferably, these resources are members of the church and intimately knowledge regarding the services. liturgy and personnel.
- All members of this group should be involved in the creation of the daily and special event ops planning.
- They should be intimately knowledgeable about the physical facilities and have key access to all areas.
- They should have direct access to local police and EMS service providers.
- They should have direct contact with the unarmed security personnel and ushers/greeters.
- They should have first aid and AED training and on-site access to these materials and devices.
- They will determine the risks during the attack and direct any evacuation activities with the unarmed security personnel, the ushers/greeters and the religious leaders and liturgical staff. They will communicate their plan to local police and EMS.
These events can include holiday festivities or special public events that may hosted on the church site. You should develop a generic special event plan that can be easily customized to meet the needs of differing church and social events. Each of the security resources defined above should be addressed in the plan and each of the resource levels must be trained in the final ops plan.
Keep Your Eyes Open!
If your church/school has social media sites, you should keep an eye on them for suspicious activities or postings. For example, you may actually see threats posted to your Facebook page. You should also work with your local police to see if they have heard any chatter regarding your faith or facilities. They have access to national resources that can prove to be life-saving.
“If You Don’t Know Where You Are Going, Any Road Will Get You There”!
This may be a fun phrase but it can be deadly if you are unprepared, or you don’t know where you are going when it comes to security planning. If you do not have a clue where to start, talk to your local police. Odds are, one of your members is or has been a law enforcement officer and can help get you in touch with the resources you need.
Your role as a spiritual leader includes not only saving souls, but also to protect the lives of your congregation!
Don’t allow this to be the scene at your church!