Reality check? We live in a dangerous world. Even our churches are not immune to this reality. In fact, there are some who see churches and their attendees as “soft targets” and have ill intent. This is in part due to church security not being a priority when it comes to thinking about and planning for the risks and dangers of our world today.
Churches need security systems. And the place to start is with a plan.
Creating a church security plan begins with conducting a comprehensive review of the church’s property, facilities, and activities with regard to their security needs. Use outside experts or volunteers to facilitate the review. It is important during the review phase to consider any and all possible threats. As much as a certain threat scenario might seem highly unlikely, considering it and possible responses to it is important. Planning ahead will allow an effective response; plus, it helps the church prevent impending threat scenarios.
Here are 4 steps to planning for your church security.
- Cover it all. In the security planning process, it is important to be thorough. Think through all possible threats, all possible options for preventing or mitigating that threat, and all possible options for responding when a security event takes place. Determine in advance who does what, when, and what resources are needed to respond effectively. Determine what level of threat prevention is preferred versus the requirements to respond to threats appropriately. Keep in mind that the more secure a facility, the less user-friendly it becomes. However, a facility with no or few security measures in place does not instill confidence in visitors or guests, especially those with smaller children. The key to success is in reaching a balance with which your church is comfortable.
- Establish trigger events. Trigger events are crisis situations defined by specific sets of criteria that are then matched with predetermined responses to those situations. For example, a trigger event might be “Someone enters the church with a visible weapon.” The response to such an event could be an audible alarm alerting staff or volunteers to secure children in pre-identified safe locations. Having such plans in place when trigger events occur allows for a well-thought-out response rather than reacting in panic, which often leads to less than optimum outcomes.
- Control entry. When thinking about church safety, there are many good resources available that address a wide variety of areas of vulnerability. Of these vulnerable areas, physical access controls, both active and passive, may be one of the largest and first concerns to tackle. Churches must address how to physically control who comes in or out of the building or property. “Passive” security measures include locks, barriers, fences, or gates. In addition, there are also monitoring systems (such as cameras) that provide not only visibility to parts of the building or property from a distance but also can provide evidence after the fact should a security event take place. These monitoring systems do not prevent someone from entering or doing something in or on your premises. “Active” security measures often involve security guards who control access to the site and monitor activity taking place. This could include armed security, whether visibly armed or carrying concealed weapons. Admittedly, armed security can be controversial and some churches choose to not pursue that option.
- Good and truly effective security systems have layers. They use a combination of measures to ensure reasonable precautions have been taken to safeguard the people and property from the most common threats. All of this depends on the perceived level of threat for a given set of circumstances. For example, the threat may be higher during Sunday services when there are more people on site. The perceived threat level may be lower on a mid-week morning when only staff are on site.
Confidence comes from being prepared. That does not mean a security situation won’t arise or that you always will respond perfectly. Security for your church will require periodic reviews to be sure adequate preparation is maintained. These things are a crucial reality for all churches in this dangerous world in which we live. Work together with your congregation, your community, and with your local law enforcement officers. Create an environment that is safe and secure for all those who come for worship.