Church Security: You Ask, We Answer

// Abby Connolly on Monday December 18, 2017

Although churches are often viewed as safe havens, they can be vulnerable to devastating violent acts, just like other businesses and organizations. Identifying the warning signs of a violent situation, knowing the best practices for protecting your church and getting fellow church members on board with increased safety and security efforts can seem overwhelming.

These topics and more were discussed in a recent webinar held by GuideOne Insurance. As you’ll see below, webinar participants asked thoughtful questions. Brian Gleason, senior risk manager at GuideOne, and Carl Chinn, independent church security consultant, have the answers to these questions.

Q: Throughout the webinar, you mentioned DLR. What does that mean?

A: DLR is an acronym for “Doesn’t Look Right”. This is a description of a person or situation that is out of the ordinary or suspicious.

Q: During incident collection, do you also track whether or not the aggressor had a relationship to the church or a member in the church, or if the aggressor was strictly a stranger?

A: The current statistics show that approximately 22% of aggressors are directly related to the church.

Q: What are the insurance implications of granting permission to carry concealed weapons in the church?

A: Anytime you allow or encourage the use of firearms in your organization you are essentially giving permission for your representative to take a person’s life. This should be done only after a thorough review of the ramifications. More information regarding concealed carry can be found here.

Q: How do we influence others in the congregation to understand the need for a safety ministry? Our congregation doesn’t see the need for an organized ministry and doesn’t want to be involved.

A: We recommend starting with the church’s leadership. Without leadership buy-in, no program will be effective. You can start with a conversation about the shepherd’s duty to care for the flock and the statistics provided in the webinar.

Q: Where do we go for local and regional safety defense and reporting compliances?

A: A good place to start is your local law enforcement agency and district attorney. They can give you a clear picture of the legal landscape in your area.

Q: Define your ideal security team.  In a very small church where a police presence might not be feasible, what would you suggest?

A: A good first step is identifying a couple of people to specifically be eyes and ears. Place one inside and one outside during events and services to be aware of what’s happening on church grounds.

Q: How frequently should training occur?

A: Do some kind of training at least once a month – even if it is 15 minutes before service time. Make it a team practice to read the “Think About It” article once a week at carlchinn.com.

Q: How do you address large bags or boxes?

A: Bags are a regular item at church services (diaper bags, large purses, oxygen bottles). We recommend first establishing a threat intelligence program for your church. If the threat level reaches the highest category (whether a known threat in the area or specific to your church), have a “no-bags allowed” status only for that event.

Q: How many safety personnel do you recommend to be available on a given day, and should they be placed in any particular place?

A: The number and placement of security personnel depends on the size, location and nature of the event, as well as any known threats. If you only have two people, one should be assigned to the outside. Beyond that, positions vary. Ratios are being defined by a study of the Faith Based Security Network, but until the study is complete, the estimate is 1% of the congregation on active duty at any given time for events with over 1,000 attendees, 1-3% for events with 100 - 1,000 attendees and 2-4% (but never less than two individuals) of crowds of 100 or less. Regardless, we are not talking a large amount of people dedicated to just patrol. But all teachers and volunteers should be on alert and know who to call.

Q: How well have you trained your staff on first aid/trauma care? 

A: Training and supplies for the medical portion should be as much, if not more, of a focus than training and equipment for the protection team. Any team will deal with medical emergencies more frequently than violent crime. Recruit people who are already medically certified, and if that is not feasible, send trainable people through your area Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) program.

Miss the webinar? We know life gets busy, so we made sure to record it for you. Along with the webinar recording, you can download valuable resources on church security and violence prevention.

This material is for information only and is not intended to provide legal or professional advice. You are encouraged to consult with your own attorney or other expert consultants for a professional opinion specific to your situation. This information is only a general description of the available coverages and is not a contract. In an effort to keep your policy coverage affordable, the actual policy contains certain limitations and exclusion. Please refer to your insurance policy for the pertinent contract language and coverages. Some coverages and discounts are not available in all states. GuideOne welcomes all applications, without regard to religion, race, color, national origin, sex, handicap or familial status.

Abby Connolly

Abby Connolly

Abby Connolly is a Marketing Strategy Specialist for GuideOne Insurance, focusing on the design and implementation of the church marketing plan, co-op advertising program, and direct mail campaigns.

When she’s not at work, she enjoys riding her bike on the Des Moines trails, spending time with her fiancé and two dogs, and going to the movies.

Protecting Your House of Worship from the Threat of Terrorism

// Eric Spacek, JD, ARM on Tuesday April 11, 2017

This past weekend, two churches in Egypt were bombed during Palm Sunday services. The bombings killed more than 40 people and injured more than 100. Although these tragic incidents took place thousands of miles away, they serve as an important reminder of the ever-relevant threat of terrorism by violent extremists, and why it’s important to take this issue seriously.

This article, originally posted in June 2016, helps raise awareness of the threat of terrorism and the steps your organization can take to protect staff and members.

As places of public gathering without extensive security protection, churches and houses of worship are generally considered “soft targets,” much like shopping malls, restaurants, stores and theaters. The Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary defines a soft target as “a person or thing that is relatively unprotected or vulnerable, especially to military or terrorist attack.”

Even in times of tragedy, your church doesn’t have to feel helpless against threats of terrorism. A few key actions – education, assessment and planning – can help your organization prepare for potential threats.

Education
Understand the threat of terrorism, which may vary by the geographical location of your facility. In addition to mass shootings, terrorist attacks also may include explosive devices, chemical or biological threats, nuclear or radiological dispersion devices, and cyber-attacks. General information on the terrorism threat is available on the Department of Homeland Security’s website. While terrorist attacks with chemical, biological, nuclear or radiological agents are possible, the likelihood of such events occurring at your facility is not high. Thus, it makes sense to broaden your plan to consider the range of emergency situations that could take place.

Assessment
An important starting point is to identify the potential hazards that your organization faces and assess your vulnerability to them. While the threat of terrorism is real, be sure to also assess the common emergency situations that your organization is more likely to face, such as medical emergencies, fires, extreme weather and natural disasters, as well as an active shooter situation. Consultation with your local law enforcement agency may be beneficial in conducting a security assessment of your facility. Many agencies are willing to assist churches in such an assessment and provide recommendations for improvement in security.

Planning
After the assessment is complete, develop an emergency plan for your organization to address the various threats identified in the assessment. In your plan, consider actions such as evacuation, shelter, lockdown, and how you will communicate with your congregation. Consider your security plan and the level of protection that you feel is appropriate for your location. For some churches, that may include the presence of off-duty law enforcement officers, armed professional security or trained volunteers.

GuideOne recommends two resources that can help your church prepare for such an event: GuideOne’s Sample Emergency Action and Recovery Plan for Religious Organizations and the federal government’s Developing High Quality Emergency Operation Plans for Houses of Worship

The recent terrorist attack serves as reminder for all organizations to be vigilant. Pay attention to the people entering and exiting your facility before, during and after services and special events, and heed this direction from the Department of Homeland Security: “if you see something, say something” to authorities. Additionally, take time to revisit your organization’s emergency plan and prepare for the various disaster scenarios that your church could potentially face.

This material is for information only and is not intended to provide legal or professional advice. You are encouraged to consult with your own attorney or other expert consultants for a professional opinion specific to your situation. This information is only a general description of the available coverages and is not a contract. In an effort to keep your policy coverage affordable, the actual policy contains certain limitations and exclusion. Please refer to your insurance policy for the pertinent contract language and coverages. Some coverages and discounts are not available in all states. GuideOne welcomes all applications, without regard to religion, race, color, national origin, sex, handicap or familial status.

Eric Spacek, JD, ARM

Eric Spacek, JD, ARM

Eric Space, JD, ARM is the Director of Risk Management and Loss Control at GuideOne Insurance in West Des Moines, Iowa.  Before joining GuideOne, he served as Minister of Operations for a large Methodist church in Raleigh, N.C., and was a liability litigation trial attorney in Washington, D.C.

The Threat of Terrorism

// Eric Spacek, JD, ARM on Tuesday June 14, 2016

The June 2016 mass shooting in Orlando, FL, has raised awareness about the threat of terrorism by violent extremists. The Department of Homeland Security defines these individuals as those “who support or commit ideologically-motivated violence to further political goals.”

As places of public gathering without extensive security protection, churches and houses of worship are generally considered “soft targets,” much like shopping malls, restaurants, stores and theaters. The Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary defines a soft target as “a person or thing that is relatively unprotected or vulnerable, especially to military or terrorist attack.”

Even in times of tragedy, your church doesn’t have to feel helpless against threats of terrorism. A few key actions can help prepare for the threats your organization may face: education, assessment and planning.

Education
Understand the threat of terrorism, which may vary by the geographical location of your facility. In addition to mass shootings, terrorist attacks also may include explosive devices, chemical or biological threats, nuclear or radiological dispersion devices, and cyber-attacks. General information on the terrorism threat is available on the Department of Homeland Security’s website. While terrorist attacks with chemical, biological, nuclear or radiological agents are possible, the likelihood of such events occurring at your facility is not high. Thus, it makes sense to broaden your plan to consider the range of emergency situations that your church may face.

Assessment
An important starting point is to identify the potential hazards that your organization faces and assess your vulnerability to them. While the threat of terrorism is real, be sure to also assess the common emergency situations that your organization is more likely to face, such as medical emergencies, fires, extreme weather and natural disasters, as well as an active shooter situation. Consultation with your local law enforcement agency may be beneficial in conducting a security assessment of your facility. Many agencies are willing to assist churches in such an assessment and provide recommendations for improvement in security.

Planning
After the assessment is complete, develop an emergency plan for your organization to address the various threats identified in the assessment. In your plan, consider actions such as evacuation, shelter, lockdown, and how you will communicate with your congregation. Consider your security plan and the level of protection that you feel is appropriate for your location. For some churches, that may include the presence of off-duty law enforcement officers, armed professional security, or trained volunteers.

GuideOne recommends two resources that can help your church prepare for such an event – GuideOne’s Sample Emergency Action and Recovery Plan for Religious Organizations and the federal government’s Developing High Quality Emergency Operation Plans for Houses of Worship . The document provided by the federal government includes a section specifically devoted to the “active shooter” situation.

The recent terrorist attack serves as reminder for all organizations to be vigilant. According to the Department of Homeland Security, “if you see something, say something” to authorities. It also is a reminder to re-visit your organization’s emergency plan and prepare for the various disaster scenarios that your church could potentially face.

This material is for information only and is not intended to provide legal or professional advice. You are encouraged to consult with your own attorney or other expert consultants for a professional opinion specific to your situation. This information is only a general description of the available coverages and is not a contract. In an effort to keep your policy coverage affordable, the actual policy contains certain limitations and exclusion. Please refer to your insurance policy for the pertinent contract language and coverages. Some coverages and discounts are not available in all states. GuideOne welcomes all applications, without regard to religion, race, color, national origin, sex, handicap or familial status.

Eric Spacek, JD, ARM

Eric Spacek, JD, ARM

Eric Space, JD, ARM is the Director of Risk Management and Loss Control at GuideOne Insurance in West Des Moines, Iowa.  Before joining GuideOne, he served as Minister of Operations for a large Methodist church in Raleigh, N.C., and was a liability litigation trial attorney in Washington, D.C.

Preventing Church Violence

// Eric Spacek, JD, ARM on Tuesday June 23, 2015

A church is often viewed as a safe haven.  Not only by the congregation members, staff and volunteers, but by the community it’s a part of.  However, today’s reality proves that shootings and violent outbreaks are more commonplace and churches aren’t excluded from that.  Most recently, the Charleston Church Shooting that occurred on Wednesday, June 17, demonstrates that violent incidents may occur at any time and churches are vulnerable to such acts.

Shocking as it may seem, violent incidents like the one in Charleston happen several times each year at churches across the country.  And while it’s not a pleasant topic to discuss, churches need to prepare themselves in the unfortunate case that a violent act does occur.  Below are some suggestions for how to make your church and its members less vulnerable.

How to Make Your Church Less Vulnerable

  • If you don’t already have one, create a church Safety and Security Team.  Designate a point person on security issues to be the security director and define the responsibilities of that position.
  • Conduct a security assessment to identify your church’s vulnerabilities.  Ideally, the assessment would be conducted in conjunction with your local law enforcement agency.
  • Develop a church security plan with defined roles for all staff, including greeters, ushers and other frontline workers and volunteers.
  • Within your church security plan, include a seating location for all security personnel, lockdown procedures, crisis communications and an evacuation plan.
  • If appropriate for the size of your church, have walkie-talkies, pagers and/or radios on hand so that you may effectively communicate any issues of concern.
  • Establish a no tolerance policy for fights, altercations and other disruptions.
  • Work with local law enforcement to provide training for staff and volunteers on topics such as dealing with disruptive individuals and identifying and diffusing potentially violent situations.
  • Understand the rules and limitations of a concealed carry weapons permit (CCW) and what your rights as a church are in allowing members or visitors to bring their firearm to church.

How to Make Your Church Members Less Vulnerable

  • Never allow staff to work alone.  Always ensure that there are at least two employees present at all times.
  • Establish an internal distress code that will alert others in the office to your need for assistance.  For example, if your members typically address each other by first name, your distress code could be addressing a colleague by his/her last name (i.e., “Ms. Smith”). 
  • Keep all church doors locked except when in use and limit access points as much as possible.
  • Make sure all church staff members know of and understand the church’s security plan.

The best way to address violence is to be prepared.  There is no assurance that a violent episode can be avoided.  However, you can be prepared for the possibility of an incident occurring and therefore react to a deadly situation in a more timely manner, potentially saving lives.

 

This material is for information only and is not intended to provide legal or professional advice. You are encouraged to consult with your own attorney or other expert consultants for a professional opinion specific to your situation. This information is only a general description of the available coverages and is not a contract. In an effort to keep your policy coverage affordable, the actual policy contains certain limitations and exclusion. Please refer to your insurance policy for the pertinent contract language and coverages. Some coverages and discounts are not available in all states. GuideOne welcomes all applications, without regard to religion, race, color, national origin, sex, handicap or familial status.

Eric Spacek, JD, ARM

Eric Spacek, JD, ARM

Eric Space, JD, ARM is the Director of Risk Management and Loss Control at GuideOne Insurance in West Des Moines, Iowa.  Before joining GuideOne, he served as Minister of Operations for a large Methodist church in Raleigh, N.C., and was a liability litigation trial attorney in Washington, D.C.