On Wednesday June 17, a lone gunman opened fire inside a church in Charleston, South Carolina. While investigations continue, we may never have all the questions answered but we WILL learn lessons in hindsight. We always do.
This was not the first church to come under attack and won’t be the last. Many Houses of Worship have responded by training select members of the congregation to become part of their church Security Team. In fact, it is considered by many to be a “mission.” Some of these teams are armed and some are not.
The idea is that church Security Team members will situate themselves at the back of the sanctuary or outside the sanctuary while services are being conducted. But what happens if the gunman is sitting in the congregation? Are individual parishioners preparing themselves?
ALICE Training is designed to prepare citizens for this very situation and offers these suggestions:
- Be aware of your surroundings at all times and believe, “It CAN happen here.” Despite being perceived as safe havens, Houses of Worship can and do come under attack.
- Know where all exits are and where they lead. Look at windows – even the stained glass type – as a point of egress.
- Don’t ignore things that seem out of the ordinary. It is not judgmental to be suspicious of odd behavior; it is called Situational Awareness.
- Don’t second guess yourself. If you see something, say something…even interrupt the sermon to voice your concern. Alert those who are in the area.
- As a family, create a reunification plan (Rally Point), if separated. Train your children to go to this point if there is an emergency and NOT to come look for you! You will find them at the Rally Point.
- Give yourself permission to get out if you sense something is wrong. Call 911, even if you don’t know all the details.
- Remember to make a shooter’s skills more difficult through noise, movement, distance, distractions (Bibles, Hymnals, purses, shoes, décor). If possible, take physical control of the person.
Mental preparation is one of the most important things you can do. Ask yourself these important questions:
- What would I do if I was in the sanctuary and the nursery or youth group came under attack?
- Where are the exits or points of egress?
- What do I want my family to know and be able to do in a violent intruder event?
- What habits do we do as a group that a shooter could use to his advantage? For example: exiting from the same doors every week, leaving doors open, or advertising times (i.e. prayer time) when there will likely be fewer people.
Places of worship can be targets for many reasons. They are considered “soft targets” in that they are perceived to be full of nice, passive people. While it is the responsibility of the institution to do all it can to make their members safe, members have a responsibility to learn all their response options to a violent intruder event. Unfortunately the 2015 Charleston shooting event has been a grim reminder that even churches need a solid security plan; one that involves everyone, right down to the individual parishioners.