Response to FEMA Report

In June, 2013, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) released the Guide for Deploying High Quality Emergency Operations Plans for Houses of Worship (you can download it here). We applaud this effort. It is a first step for churches to prepare for weather, fire, utility and medical emergencies they may face. It also tries to address the issue of when violence comes to church. It gives good advice on how churches should form a security team and coordinate with local emergency responders before the actual threat is upon them.

But generally speaking this guide is written from a post-event perspective. What about preventing violence at church. This is critical because once you call 9-1-1 it is too late.

Other than some cut and paste filler from some existing school and workplace violence studies they offer barely a half a page on preventing violence at church. What is important to point out is that violence that comes to church is much different from school and workplace violence. Namely, at a school or a workplace there is more time to identify warning signs of violence because you see the student or worker for multiple hours during a business day. In a church setting you may see a member once a week if that often making it much harder to detect behavior indicators of possible violence. More important is how you respond to the outsider that comes to church to do harm. The shootings at the Wedgewood Baptist Church in Fort Worth, TX, the Unitarian Church in Knoxville, TN and the First Baptist Church in Marysville, IL all were committed by non-members. The challenge in preventing an attack at church is that the attacker could be an insider from the church or an outside that you have never encountered before.

During our careers with the U.S. Secret Service, we have conducted hundreds advance security plans. Certainly post incident emergency planning was a critical element to each plan. But each plan started with a healthy dose of preventive efforts. Prevention that consisted of visibility, presence, and access control that was strategically placed and manned by trained team members. The ultimate goal was to deter the potential attacker before gaining entry into the event.

We encourage churches to review the DHS emergency operations guide and start thinking on how to address an emergency event. We recommend that churches open a dialogue with local law enforcement in preparation for the day an emergency may occur. Further, we would suggest that churches take a hard look at their own facility in an effort to harden the church target with efficient locks, alarms, door/window frames and cameras. There are many reputable companies that offer solid consultation on these issues.

We certainly can address and discuss the items in the paragraph above but that is not where our expertise lies. Based on our training and experience we offer a narrowly focused training session for your security team, ushers and/or greeters that will make your church a safer place by deterring violence that may come to your church service.