In December of 2008 the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) came out with their program to combat an active shooter situation with Run-Hide-Fight. DHS presented it as Run then Hide and then Fight in a linear process. I felt it needed more so when I first started to use Run-Hide-Fight in training, I added another part, Focus. Once you hear the gunshots you needed to Focus on where the shots originated from so you didn’t run toward the shooting. Having heard gunshots in a building it is sometimes difficult to tell exactly where they are coming from. They will echo off walls travel down hallways and so it is sometimes hard to tell the actual location of the shooter. So we taught in churches to first Focus and see if you can tell the location of shooter before Run-Hide-Fight.
I was still having a hard time with Run-Hide-Fight, there was something about it that I couldn’t put my finger on it that bothered me. In fact the only reason I used the DHS Run-Hide-Fight was because everyone had heard it and hey you don’t argue with the government. They know best, right? Then the Houston Police Department came out with their training video on Run-Hide-Fight. If you have never seen this video, you can view it here and then you will understand some of my other issues with Run-Hide-Fight. In this video you see what looks like a Houston office complex with people dressed in business attire going about their daily routines. Then here comes this Vin Diesel looking character dressed in all black with black shades walking into the building and then pulling a shotgun out of the black backpack and starts shooting. I think you can follow where I am going with this, the shooter was an anomaly from the start.
The second thing I noticed with the video was that everyone except maybe the security guard is under 50 and also in good shape. Of course the security guard is probably under 50 but he is the first one to get shot. What they didn’t show in this video were any elderly or those that might not be in the best shape of their life. It also appeared that not one person with disabilities worked in this office complex. Do they not exist in a real-world active shooting situation? Did we just leave them out or do we not want to discuss that possibility?
When we first began talking about our safety policies and procedures for our new building; when we got to the active shooter portion most team members pushed Run-Hide-Fight. Having walked the property numerous times, I asked him “run where”? The response was to their cars or behind trees, just get out of the building as fast as they can. I disagreed: we needed to barricade the doors and try to keep the shooter from getting into our worship center and the children’s ministry. After a couple of minutes of a little tense discussion we walked the property and came to an agreement that Run-Hide-Fight would not work.
Sometimes people get hung up on the fact that the Department of Homeland Security created the Run-Hide-Fight environment. Law enforcement agencies all over the country started putting on seminars covering Run-Hide-Fight; it was the end all be all for all churches. But after looking over our church’s property and members we felt that it was not a good option. One size does not fit all and we needed to make some major changes. The first thing we pointed out was our location. In the Houston video the ones that ran out of the building went into alley ways or around large power boxes and used them to hide from the shooter. Our church is located on a large piece of property where there is really nowhere to hide from someone shooting at you. If the shooter is mobile or even if there are two shooters, getting from the church to a position of cover is a little bit of a sprint. Getting into your car will make you less mobile until you are moving off of the campus. Sitting in a stationary car makes a parishioner an easier target for the shooter. And your vehicle is not bulletproof like they appear to be in the movies. A shot to the door by most weapons used by shooters, even handguns will penetrate the door. If there is a traffic jam in the parking lot then everyone is stuck and the shooter has plenty of targets until the shooting stops.
How about hiding behind the trees on the property? How many trees do you have on your property. How far are the trees from the church, up against the building or 50 to 100 yards away. How many people can you get behind a tree at one time until it makes it a non-viable cover spot. Not that many. If you have an open field next to your church, where does the congregation and children go? If your church has multiple buildings you could use those buildings to run to but you have to have a plan in place to know which building is best to run toward when the shooting starts. You do not want to take an active shooter towards your children’s ministry building. You should be moving the shooter as far away from you children as possible.
The next thing we considered are our elderly and people with disabilities. Every time I walk into our worship center I look for my elderly and those with a disability in case I need to move them out of the church in the event of a fire. But that becomes a major issue with Run-Hide-Fight; well the Run part. What do I do about those that either cannot run because of age or those with disabilities? We have to have a plan in place for everyone.
Recently I received a call from a church that wanted to talk about active shooting training. They had gotten our information from one of the law enforcement agencies we work closely with. The first thing I told him was that I didn’t teach Run-Hide-Fight. I explained to him that Pew Research showed on average most churches had 25% of their congregation over the age of 65. He joked and said flip that, that most of his congregation was over the age of 65, that it was about 80% of the church so he understood that Run-Hide-Fight wasn’t going to work for him either. He just needed some sort of solution to protect his flock.
So here is what we teach; we need to find a way to protect those inside our church, our children’s ministry and the worship center without a lot of movement. Even though I felt that we at Trinity Security Allies came up with this years ago, we didn’t give it a cool acronym like what Pasco County Sheriff’s Department does. Pasco County teaches the ABC of an Active Shooting to their schools. A is for Alert, B is for Barricade and C is for Confront. When the crisis starts you Alert others of what is going on and start to lockdown. Then you Alert local law enforcement of the situation. You then take yourself and others and Barricade yourself and those with you in a secure room. If you can’t get yourself into a room away from the shooter, you must Confront the shooter by whatever means are available. I hope one day this technique will be taught all over the United States.
First step of any active shooter planning for a church is to look at your strength and weaknesses. My first walkthrough of any new church is to see if doors in the children’s ministry, classrooms and worship center will lock. You would be surprised how many times I find all the doors in a children’s ministry without locks and then walk over to where the church keeps its audio visual equipment and find doors Fort Knox would be proud of. I don’t understand why we put so much emphasis on things we can replace with insurance over our most precious treasure; our children. If you don’t have locks to protect your children that is one of the first items that has to be implemented. No ifs, ands or buts. Our number one priority should be to protect the children.
If you have classrooms, put locks on the doors so you can lockdown or find rooms in the building that will work as a rendezvous point. We work with a church in Lakeland that has multiple stories so we picked rooms on every floor for everyone to run to incase of a lockdown. Each room had something specific that would allow you to lock the doors and then put things against the door, turn off the lights and get low. Some rooms we picked had water and facilities in case someone was injured or if they were going to be in the room for a long period of time.
So we have alerted local law enforcement and barricaded the best we can; we realize we may have to confront the danger. In the old west when new settlers in wagon trains headed out for fresh opportunities you had different positions that would protect the travelers. There would be the wagon captain that was in charge of the journey and they would send out scouts to watch for dangers across the horizon. They would be out watching for that anomaly that looked like a threat. If they saw anything that made them feel uncomfortable they would come back to the wagon train and get ready to circle the wagons.
This is why your rovers are so important. If they spot a Vin Diesel looking guy with black clothing and black glasses with a black backpack heading toward your church and they don’t know who it is, there needs to be an intervention. The Burnette Chapel Church of Christ and the Sutherland Springs Baptist Church shootings, the shooters work black tactical clothes with some sort of mask over their faces. They both shot at someone or the church before they went inside the churches. Once the rover spots a possible danger and has alerted other safety team members of what he has the team needs to start moving into lockdown or circling the wagons.
Church volunteers must make sure the lockdown is taking place. Not everyone needs to be going against the threat. If you have contacted local law enforcement, gotten your doors locked and everyone down, you have just saved lives. If your doors are not glass but wooden doors that lock, remember information gained from the Sandy Hook investigation; “that no violent intruder has ever entered a locked classroom”. We know that time is against an active shooter so they are looking for easy targets. Kicking in doors where there might not be anyone is wasting time. Looking at the October shooting at the Germany synagogue, the shooter was not able to get into the synagogue because of the locked wooden doors but two innocent bystanders were killed because they didn’t move away from the shooter.
So we have gotten the church on lockdown. We know where most of our worshipers are located and now we work on keeping the threat from entering the church. If our rover was successful and alerting us of the threat we then proceed to lock all doors leading into the church if possible. We do not go outside after the threat. Let law enforcement handle that. Our entry doors are glass, we know that the armed intruder is going to have to break out the glass to get inside. This gives you an opportunity to plan to confront the shooter. If you have armed safety team members they should be moving toward cover and now directing their aim as the attacker tries to make their way into the church. If you do not have armed safety team members, use whatever you have available to confront the assailant. I love when I go through a church that provides hymnals or Bibles in their worship center. A person with a gun facing 30 to 40 heavy books raining down on him gives you a lot of opportunity to get to that person and get the weapon away from them before they even fire a shot.
Using the analogy of the wagon train again, after successfully fighting off the threat you never saw members of the wagon train hoping on their horses and chasing after the threat. You took care of those that have been injured or in the case of an active shooter you are doing what the local law enforcement is advising you to do, but you don’t go chasing after the enemy. Yes our hero in Sutherland Springs, Stephen Williford did go after the shooter but he wasn’t in the church. As a safety team leader or member, your responsibility is the flock. Let the police or good Samaritans like Williford handle the bad guy.
Run-Hide-Fight taught us we had to be ready for an attack on our churches. It also made us aware there is more than an active shooter we have to be prepared for in our houses of worship. We see domestic issues, disruptive attendees, medical incidents and even lost children. I heard a safety team member from another church say that it was a boring job being a safety team person. First, I like boring and second it ain’t all about him and third he doesn’t have the servant heart to be on my team. Yes it may seem boring but we cannot become complacent. We must always be on alert. Safety Team Member give yourself no rest for Satan is out there like a roaring lion looking for a church to destroy. Soon churches will be overflowing with visitors and members for the Christmas season and Satan would just love to disrupt us when we are celebrating the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ. As the Watchmen/Watchwomen we cannot let this happen, not at our church, not on our watch. Be safe and have a fantastic Christmas season.
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.