Protect your worshipers from armed intruder attacks
By Rich Poirier
Not long ago, anyone in search of a safe haven or spiritual guidance could turn to a place of worship knowing its doors would be open and its members welcoming.
Offering a spiritual home to those in need is central to many faiths. But today, some of those sanctuaries are under siege by armed intruders. And more places of worship are reacting by closing ranks, locking their doors and taking other preventive or defensive actions.
Sadly, we know that armed attacks can happen anywhere. Though the vast majority of such incidents occur in government, military, commercial or educational settings, houses of worship accounted for 4% of 250 active shootings in the U.S. between 2000 and 2017, according to FBI data.
As a leading insurer of religious organizations, we hear from faith leaders across the nation. They tell us that worshippers everywhere are worried.
To gain a broader understanding of everyday Americans’ safety and security concerns, Church Mutual commissioned its first study of the topic, surveying thousands of people across the nation (a nationally representative sample of 2,001 ages 18 and over).
A few of our findings:
- 51% of those surveyed reported regular attendance at a church or house of worship.
- One in 10 respondents said they do not feel safe in their house of worship.
- Fear of armed intruders was the top safety/security concern in their place of worship, surpassing natural disasters, cybersecurity breaches and sexual misconduct.
- 71% of respondents considered a safe and secure worship center to be very important.
Faith leaders across the country are grappling with the possibility of an armed intruder. They know their worshippers want to feel safe again, and they want to provide that protection without adding to the potential danger.
The risks of armed security
Some organizations traditionally opposed to violence have responded with dramatic counter-measures, taking up arms themselves by sanctioning volunteers to carry weapons or hiring armed security professionals.
Their righteous indignation at such unholy terror is understandable. Unwittingly, though, that approach may put worshippers in greater danger and pose a liability risk to their organization.
Accident reports and actuarial tables consistently show that, even in well-trained hands, adding weapons to the mix also increases the chances of accidental firearm injuries and deaths while adding to liability exposure. It’s also important to note that when an organization asks an individual to carry a weapon on its behalf, much of the responsibility and liability for their actions falls on the organization itself.
Simple first steps
The good news is that some of the most effective preventive tactics are straightforward:
- Lock all non-essential exterior doors
- Assign greeters trained to assess security threats to entrances during services and gatherings
- Teach members to report behavioral warning signs of violence
- Know and follow state and local laws regarding weapon use
- Work with local law enforcement to determine areas of vulnerability
- Develop a safety and security plan; train and drill regularly; communicate the plan broadly
Safety and security plans have the potential to save lives. That’s why I strongly recommend investing the time to create formalized policies and procedures — and to review them regularly while conducting practice drills.
- Your security policy and plan should include:
- Objectives and core values
- Security team job descriptions and responsibilities
- Training topics and frequency
- Medical response responsibilities
- Individual response options, training and drills
Planning for the unthinkable
It can be troubling for faith organizations to prepare for the possibility of violence in their midst. But preparation is the best way to avert tragedies and save lives. It also provides a valuable opportunity to bring members’ fears to light and to offer the reassurance of a practical plan and a security team.
By partnering with some of the nation’s leading safety and security organizations, Church Mutual has created a robust toolkit of resources to help assess your risks and create and implement a safety and security plan.
Complimentary tools include the video, “Protecting Your Congregation Against An Active Shooter,” an armed intruder seminar series, a resource kit and a security practices guide from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
In these perilous times, our work to inform religious organizations — and protect the greater good — has never felt more important.
Rich Poirier is the president and CEO of Church Mutual Insurance Company.