Beyond the shooter
We get requests for church security assessments on a weekly basis. Many churches realize that they must start thinking about safety and security from a ministry mindset. And, most churches who reach out to us say something like this..."We have thought about church security, but we are totally unprepared for a security-related event." Now, there are some code words in that sentence that makes it mean something different than what you may have thought it meant the first time you read it.
When a church says, "we have thought about church security," what they really mean is "we are worried that someone might shoot up our church." And, when they say, "we are totally unprepared for a security-related event," what they really mean is, "we are totally unprepared if someone comes in with a gun and starts shooting up our church."
You see, about 99.99% of churches think of "church security" ONLY in terms of an armed intruder or an active shooter. To place church security and safety in such a small box is to totally miss the point of Church Safety Ministry. There are so many more facets to church safety OTHER than an active shooter. But, most churches completely ignore these vital elements.
Let's look at the statistics. Between 1999 and 2020, there have been approximately 20 shootings or mass killings at places of worship in the United States. There are approximately 385,000 religious congregations in the United States. That means that 0.005% of churches experienced an active shooter or armed assailant event over a 21 year period. Further, during that 21 year period, there were 8 years that saw ZERO active shooters at US churches. 5/100,000th of US churches experienced a shooting event over a 21 year period. If you are basing your entire church security ministry on active shooter scenarios, you are placing all of your energy into preparing for something that has a 5 in 100,000 percent chance of occurring.
Conversely, virtually every church WILL encounter a medical emergency at some point. While there are no hard and fast statistics available, every single church we have worked with has experienced some form of medical emergency. It may be something as simple as a skinned knee in the children's area. It may be a fall in the parking lot. Or, it may be a cardiac event in the worship center requiring CPR and EMS response.
When I conduct my church security trainings I always use the same line to drive this point home. "I will NEVER stand in front of a church and tell you that you will NEVER encounter an active shooter. The chance is incredibly slim, but it is possible. I WILL stand in front of EVERY SINGLE CHURCH and tell you that, at some point, you WILL encounter a medical emergency." Eventually, some kid will fall and get a boo-boo. Eventually, someone will trip over a parking block in the parking lot and bruise their knee. Eventually, someone will have a heart attack, a stroke, an asthma attack, an allergic reaction, or a diabetic emergency on your campus. And, you MUST be ready to respond to that medical situation just as vigorously as you think you'll respond to an active shooter. Someone's life might be in danger, and it's your duty to save that life.
I am a former SWAT Commander, a Tactical Firearms Instructor, and a certified instructor in Civilian Response to Active Shooter Events (CRASE). If you want to know how to respond to an active shooter, I can certainly teach you. But, I also want to make sure that you are just as prepared to respond to that kid with a skinned knee or that church member having a diabetic emergency in the kitchen.
In our organization, we speak about Beyond the Shooter. We even offer a training module by that name. And, in all of our church security overview presentations and church security site assessments, we spend much more time talking about what you will do and how you will respond to these events that are, statistically speaking, much more likely to happen.
Events that you need to consider "Beyond the Shooter" are:
- Medical Emergencies
- Lost Children
- Custody Disputes
- Domestic Disturbances
- Theft / Burglary
- Evacuation Procedures
- Civil Emergencies / Haz-Mat Event
- Inclement Weather
- Utility Disruptions / Gas Leak
- Police Action in the Area - Lockdown / Lockout Procedures
- Service Disruptions
- Disgruntled / Terminated Employees
- Tithe / Offering / Money Procedures
As you can see, Church Safety Ministry encompasses much more than just active shooter events. Chances are, your safety team will never encounter an active shooter. Obviously, you want to be prepared should the worst of the worst ever happen. But, it is equally important that your safety team be prepared for events that they almost certainly WILL encounter. Be prepared beyond the shooter.