Thursday, April 30th, 2020 we finished our second webinar, “Putting Together a Safety Plan”. This is going to be a follow-up to that webinar, adding a couple of my thoughts that we didn’t get to cover. If you didn’t get to participate in that webinar you can find it out on our YouTube Channel under Trinity Security Allies.
On Sunday, April 19th, 2020 I did my Sunday Facebook Live on reopening the churches. I really believe states will soon be lifting some of the restrictions and it is imperative that churches without safety teams begin to think about putting together a safety plan and forming a safety team. With everything else going on with the reopening, I know that these churches do not want to place another thing on their plates, but church safety is going to take a 180 degree turn and if we don’t get ahead of it now. There are going to be more violent incidents at churches. I am not talking about active shooter per say, but I do feel we are due one here real soon and to use the virus as an excuse would not surprise me. Not singling out any one religion, but the Department of Homeland Security has put out two warnings out on violence to houses of worship and one specifically listed the Jewish community. If your synagogue or church doesn’t have some sort of plan for emergencies situations, this is the time to have that serious conversation.
In the church safety/security procedures I have found that we must always be flexible and learn how to adapt. A marine mantra that I use is "Improvise, Adapt, and Overcome". With this type of mindset, they can overcome any physical, mental or spiritual adversity. Sounds a little bit like church safety, we must be able to change, to improvise with the changing of the times. We must learn how to adapt to give the best protection to our congregation without interfering with the mission statement of the church. We have to overcome any obstacle that might cause issues and let the church do what they do best, bring people to Christ. Let me give you a couple of examples of incidents that caused us to "Improvise, Adapt, and Overcome".
Several years ago a Texas church experienced the tragedy of a child left behind in a vehicle. The parents, running late, expected the other to grab the little one, but they both forgot her sleeping in her car seat. When they found her later she had died from the heat. After this story came out I immediately pulled the team together and told them that while roving the parking lot if they saw a child’s seat in the vehicle, check and make sure it is empty. You wouldn’t think I would have to point this out, but team members gave me puzzled looks like that could never happen here or they just couldn’t believe I had thought of that. It can happen anywhere and even writing about it now breaks my heart over the loss of that child.
When Pastor Remington was shot six times outside the Altar Church in broad daylight on March 6, 2016 we had to "Improvise, Adapt, and Overcome" again. Before this incident we would just walk our pastor out to his vehicle after the church services. Because the shooter was waiting for Pastor Remington when he left, we started to send a team member out to make sure the area was clear before we walked out with the pastor. Our pastor at the time didn’t like the new procedure because it made it look like we were the Secret Service but his wife came to our aid and told him to keep quiet and let us do our jobs. I am sure she heard of the Altar Church shooting.
So in my Facebook live on reopening the churches I made the statement about people wearing masks and caught some flak. Look, in the old days if I saw a guy with a mask going into a bank, that was what we called a clue, and it probably meant that he wasn’t going into the bank to just deposit money. But today the new normal may be wearing a mask to church. If it is the new normal get used to it and learn how to "Improvise, Adapt, and Overcome". I guess I get a little confused about the concern over wearing a mask. If your safety team cannot identify 90 percent of your congregation from behind or with a mask on, then we need to do some major training on observation.
I run in very early in the morning. On my longer runs even earlier. We have this trail that is basically in the country with fields, trees, water, cattle and deer. The other week we met a five foot alligator hanging out near a fence. That will make you move faster. Anyway, almost every time we take this trail, we see a walker who has this unusual stride. I have not been able to see his face because of it being dark and in the cold, he has had a hoodie on or a hat. So before the stay at home happened I noticed a person walking toward the church doors that I didn’t recognize yet I did recognize his stride. As he came into the church I walked over to him and asked him if he walked the trail in the morning and he responded yes. He didn’t recognize me, but I told him I was one of the runners that passes by him all the time. I recognized him by his walk. Are we tracking yet? You should know your members, mask or no mask.
If you have someone comes into your church wearing a mask and you do not recognize them, someone needs to step up and talk to that person. When discussing this with another safety team leader, he told me “it's hard to get some of these guys into a greeter mentality”. They either need to get the proper training on how to go and talk to someone or they need to find a new place to serve in the church. I am going to brag about my safety team right now because most of them are not afraid to walk up to someone they don’t know and start a conversation. With the proper training you can tell if a person is in need or could be a possible problem.
We have to "Improvise, Adapt, and Overcome" on this folks. With the reopening of churches we are going to have issues that we have never faced before and this is going to require some new training and some new procedures in the church. Safety team leaders need to sit down with church leaders and staff and draw out the way they are going to reopen while still following CDC guidelines. This is not going to be an easy task, but if we don’t do it the right way then we will reap either the spread of the virus or the wrath of the non-believers, in some cases both.
We as the safety team of the church need to rethink our way of protecting the church. We need to be proactive instead of reactive. Active shooter training is reactive, the shooter has already started killing people in your building. We are too late at that point. I am really happy to see there are more and more true church safety professionals out here teaching the need to be “left of bang” instead of right in the middle of it. Situational awareness, threat profiling and verbal de-escalation should be the first things taught to your safety team. Active shooter training is a must, don’t get me wrong, but if we have a shooter get into our church and there were red flags all over the place like the West Freeway COC shooter, we have failed at preventing it. I can see the hate mail coming my way after that statement.
In every shooting we do an “after action critique” and in almost all shootings, with the exception of an ambush, there are certain warning signs that if the officer had picked up on, the outcome might have been different. I know what you are thinking, and no I am not a Monday morning quarterback. I am saying we learn from our actions and mistakes. I cannot tell you how many times I saw video or reviewed a shooting that helped me later on the street by using that information to move out of harms’ way.
Face masks are probably going to be a thing of the future, so we had better get used to them. I foresee that in the future, masks are going to be a fashion statement like women’s hats in the 50s and 60s. So how are we going to handle it? I have a novel idea, how about training on what to look for when you meet someone that you do not recognize? I can teach you how to look at the other 99 percent of their body and tell you whether we have a problem or not. Don’t think so? Give us a call and I will show you.
Jim has many years of law enforcement experience and has run the safety team at his church for several years. TSA was formed after he realized God's calling when multiple churches reached out and asked him to present at their church.