We just finished our 1st quarter Church Safety Networking Group (CSNG) meetings. These meetings are to network churches and share information of issues and concerns they are having at their houses of worship. This quarter’s training included an after-action critique of the West Freeway Church of Christ shooting. The common narrative has been that the shooting was a “mass shooting” incident. In my professional opinion the West Freeway COC shooting was an armed robbery gone bad. Call me if you want to discuss my opinion. I explained to the CSNG’s members that we are going to start a different style of training on Active Shooter preparedness. We will analyze shootings that have happened across the United States, review studies related to how these shootings occurred and work on proactive prevention strategies instead of reacting to the incident without proper preparation. We will train for Before the incident preparation, During the incident response procedures and what should happen After an active shooter incident occurs.
I don’t think people who have never been involved in a shooting incident understand the real emotional devastation that happens after an active shooting. As someone who has lived through a similar incident, I truly felt and witnessed the effects on my family and friends after my dad walked out of the church and killed a beloved deacon of the church. The victim’s family and my family and friends were all devastated and crushed by this disturbing act of hate and violence. It took me a long time to recover. Still today, because of the past relationship with my father and my mother, I have moments of insecurity that only God, my wife and family, my Christian brothers and sisters have been able to help me to overcome.
I received a call from my sister who still lives in the Dallas/Fort Worth area about the West Freeway COC shooting incident. She explained that Tony Wallace, the deacon who was shot during the shooting was a nurse who worked with her. She went on to tell me that he was a great guy and a beacon of light when he was at work. They were all shocked and devastated when they heard the news about Tony. The tragedy of these shootings goes far beyond the boundaries of the church alone. These incidents affect the entire community and reach beyond our communities to us all. For all of these reasons, we must start evaluating how we handle the incidents that face today’s churches and develop strategies to effectively prepare for surviving them.
Recently I was driving my daughter, Jessica, back to school. We started talking about the topic of our next Facebook live broadcast and I told her about our new training on Active Shooter Preparedness. I explained that I believed we should a different approach to the training. Our training during the CSNG meetings will be more focused on preparedness Before, proper response During and healing After a shooting event. She asked me this question; “do these churches do Risk Management or Risk Analysis”. At first I scoffed. Here she is, this college student, and she is hitting me with big words like Risk Management and Risk Analysis. Then she dazzled me with the 5 Phase Emergency Management (EM) model and I thought she was talking about some new rock group she was listening to on Spotify. Yet, the more she talked about Prevention, Preparedness, Response, Recovery and Mitigation, the more I realized if you take away the complicated language she had a good topic for not only our Facebook live but also this month’s blog.
This is the way Jessica explained the Emergency Management Model. In the state of Florida from June to the end of November we would focus on hurricanes more than we would tornadoes. We need to plan for both, but every hurricane season statistics show we have a better chance of getting hit by a hurricane than a tornado. In the Midwest they would just reverse the order because they will probably never see a hurricane unless they plan a trip to Florida during that time of year. So, if we take that approach to the church safety team training, what should we be looking as our primary focus? After we identify our most likely risk exposure, we make our way down the list of potential threats in order of their probability of occurrence. Do we too often focus on things that probably will never happen at our church instead of focusing on the inevitable?
When I go to a church for the first time to do an assessment, the first place I ask the church to take me to is the children’s ministry. I walk through and look for locks on the classroom doors. I cannot tell you how many churches don’t have proper locks on the doors of the areas where, their most precious possessions, our children are located. However, when I ask them to take me to where their audio/video equipment is held the doors are so secure that it would make Fort Knox proud. When this occurs, I look at the person giving me the tour and tell them, they can replace all the a/v equipment with insurance monies, but we cannot replace the precious little ones that God has trusted to our protection. We should consider our Children’s Ministry as our primary risk potential as we develop our Emergency Management Plan.
Many church leaders who contact us in the beginning stages of starting a Safety Team will tell me right off the bat that they are more likely to be struck by lightning than have an active shooter in their church. They often follow up with, “don’t come into their church and talk about arming everyone with a sidearm and teach them how to clear rooms”. I agree with them and tell them we need to sit down and talk about what they see as possible threats and how to prevent those incidents from happening to their church. We conduct a risk analysis, or as I say, strength and weaknesses analysis to identify potential risks for incidents that happen most frequently at churches, rather than those that might not ever happen, like an active shooter. So finally, if you ask me what steps I would take first to manage risks at your church, it would be conduct a risk analysis and implement a risk management plan. But with any plan it needs to be adaptable. Talking to Simon Osamoh and James McGarvey with Church Safety and Security, we discussed the necessity for flexibility with our planning because when different incidents occur, our training priorities and focus could change.
If we consider what seems to be one of the most significant issues with churches today it would be vandalism. In our daily Google Alerts, we have at least one or two churches that have been affected by vandals and it seems to be increasing in frequency. I had one safety team leader say that you can’t stop vandalism. Yes, maybe that is true, we can’t stop them, but we can do our due diligence to make it harder for those who do these terrible deeds. Have your local law enforcement come out and do a Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) assessment. If they don’t know what that is, you can look it up on the internet. I found one done by Virginia Beach, VA which is 34 pages long. That isn’t a lot of reading and it will help you understand that by taking the four CPTED elements you can do a lot to reduce vandalisms against your church. This measure is a critical part of Prevention strategy. Let’s try to get ahead of it before it becomes a larger issue.
In my personal and professional opinion, I would also be looking at the human interaction of your safety team. Huh, you ask? I hear examples over and over again in our training sessions. Inappropriately handled human interaction between an untrained safety team member and another person can be one of the greatest risks a church faces today. We know that there are three types of people that come into our church. Those who come to worship and we recognize them as they walk through the door. We have those that come into our church that are hurting and one step away from doing something they will regret for the rest of their lives. They are looking for an answer and our praying they may find answers in our churches. The third, of course, is the wolf in sheep’s clothing. Our Threat Profiling training teaches you how to recognize the last two, but now that you recognize the difference between those that are hurting and the wolves what are you doing? What human interaction skills are you developing to deal with those two types?
In our training I show a video of a young male interrupting a church service. Before the video I ask the students if this church has a safety team. As the video starts two males are outside the church talking about making history. One of the males enters into the church while the other films the disturbance on his phone. You will have to come to one of my training sessions and find out what happens next. In the video, even though it does not look like the church has a safety team, every able male and one tough female stop the intruder before he can get to the front of the church and then they herded him out. In my opinion, except for letting the intruder get too far into the church before he is stopped, they did everything right. When I show this video I ask the trainees what would they have done different, I often get responses like “I would have piled driven that clown into the floor” or “I would have placed a choke hold on him”. No, sorry, not a part of the solution. Think about it, the accomplice was video-recording the whole encounter. The video made its way to YouTube. Think about what would have happened if the press got a hold a video of one of your safety team members pile driving a kid whose only crime was disrupting your church service which is a misdemeanor here in the State of Florida.
I was trained using the Behavioral Change Stairway Model in Crisis Negotiation. I use this technique in our Verbal De-escalation Training Program. The second step after Active Listening is Empathy. We may not see or understand the person’s conflict, but to them it is very real. In any crisis negotiation we have to understand that to get a person from crisis mode to where we can help them, we must treat their crisis as a valid issue. While doing this training I used the example of a person that just lost a loved one. They didn’t know how they would be able to continue on with life and were thinking of suicide. On multiple occasions I have had safety team members tell me that we need to explain to these people that if their loved one is a Christian they will see them again, as if that should solve the problem. No, sorry once again, not part of the solution in these situations. I can see the Facebook or Google Review of your church now. “I went to the church looking for comfort because my mother just passed away some person there told me to get over it because I would one day see them in Heaven.” One star and no “I would not recommend this church”.
Okay, before we go any further we need to address another very real concern as well. There may come a time when you have to put your hands on someone to remove them from the church. There may even be a time when you have to take someone’s life because they threaten those in your congregation. That is not your fault. People sometimes place us in situations that require forceful solutions. If your heart is in the right place for this ministry and you are good with God, He will not put you into a situation that He has not trained you for. When that time comes you will know it. Consider the example of Julie Workman, a survivor of the Sutherland Springs Baptist Church shooting. After evil came into their church and killed 26 people and injured 20 others, two of them her sons, Julie, a registered nurse, jumped up after the madman left the church and started doing triage, saving several people who would have died before first responders could get there. She told me while all this was going on, she kept hearing a voice telling her this was what she had been trained for all her life. God directed her there that day and God put her to work.
So, if I were to identify the most significant risk to our churches, I would say lack of specific training relevant to what those serving the church are going to confront someday, whether it is on the safety team or other positions in the church.
Our main focus should be on the expansion of the Kingdom of God. If that is not the foundation your safety team is built upon you should reconsider your direction. Safety Team Leaders and church leadership need to do a risk analysis on your safety team, making sure everyone is on the same page as it relates to how to deal with the people that are visiting your church. When someone walks into our church hurting, upset, dealing with domestic issues or just having a bad day, our job is to be there for those that are in need of some good old Christian fellowship, prayer or maybe even a hug (all you macho safety team men just hang with me)? After making sure we have developed a well-trained team let’s not forget other possible risks that will come into our church, i.e., domestic issues, lost children, medical emergencies, self-proclaimed profits, disruptive attendees and of course active shooter and develop a 5 Phase EM. Thank you Jessica.
On December 29, 2019, a madman shot and killed two innocent people inside West Freeway Church of Christ before he was shot and killed by Jack Wilson, an NRA instructor and former reserve deputy sheriff. This all took place in a little over 6 seconds. Soon after the shooting, Democratic Presidential hopeful Michael Bloomberg stated “It’s the job of law enforcement to have guns and to decide when to shoot. You just do not want the average citizen carrying a gun in a crowded place.” I am not sure what planet Mr. Bloomberg lives on but unfortunately, he is wrong. We would all love to have our own personal bodyguards like Mr. Bloomberg has, but according to The Bureau of Justice Statistics’ (BJS) report  that came out in September 2019, on average the response time on 911 calls involving violent crimes is 10 minutes. If Jack Wilson had not reacted in less than 6 seconds and they waited on law enforcement to show up, more people would have probably died that day.
If we take a moment and study the entire BJS report, one of the more disturbing statistics is 63.5% of response times to a violent crime can take from 6 minutes to 1 hour before law enforcement arrives. Most attacks are well over by the time 1st responders arrive on the scene. I don’t know about you but if the average response time is 10 minutes and I only have seconds to save myself, one of my family members or an innocent person, I am taking action. I will be happy to articulate my actions when the police arrive.
If we take a look at the November 5, 2017 shooting at Sutherland Springs Baptist Church. What most churches don’t know the shooter went into the church, shot everyone that was there, then the shooter went back out to his vehicle to reload. The shooter then came back inside the church a second time and started to execute those that were still alive. As he was heading outside another time, possibly to get more ammo and continue killing people, he was confronted by Stephen Willeford. Stephen Willeford is also an NRA firearms instructor and “good guy with a gun” who had the presence of mind, training and alertness to see the shooter had on a ballistic vest with no side panels. That is where Stephen placed his first shot. Stephen Willeford’s intervention caused the shooter retreated to his truck and attempt to flee. If not for Stephen Willeford’s actions, responding from his home across the street from the Sutherland Springs Baptist Church more people would have died that day.
So when we discuss why we really need guns in churches, I remind people to look at the national average of response time for first responders arriving at a violent crime. Remember BJS reported the average response times on 911 calls involving violent crimes is 10 minutes. Clint Smith, President and Director of Thunder Ranch, said, "When seconds count, the cops are just minutes away." The shooting in White Settlement was over in less than 15 seconds because of an armed safety team. According to Julie Workman, a survivor of the shooting in Sutherland Springs Baptist Church, it was 15 minutes before the first responder came into the church after the shooter had left and the massacre had stopped. This reason alone gives you enough justification to have armed safety team members in your church.
When your church decides to form its’ own safety team here are a couple of suggestions. Look for current and retired law enforcement officers or military personal who attend your houses of worship. Enlisting the assistance of these individuals will help more rapidly create the safety team ministry. Remember this is a ministry like any other ministry in your church and should be considered as such. Speak to current or retired law enforcement or military personal about running the safety team or being at least an advisor due to their training. Enlisting persons who may already have training and experience that qualifies them for safety team members makes sense from a safety as well as a liability standpoint. When the church takes on the duty of providing security-type services, it must do so “reasonably,” and from a liability conscious perspective. A church’s actions are more likely to be considered “reasonable” and less likely to be negligent if the individuals it chooses to be responsible for protecting the congregation are those who have extensive public safety and emergency response training.
After developing your team the now comes the discussion of proper training for churches and houses of worship. With or without proper training a church runs the risk of being sued when a safety team member has to use his or her weapon. Litigation can be greatly reduced if there is a history of the delivery of a high-quality training program. The training program should be focused on being proactive and watching for those that may come into your church to do harm. Policy and procedures should be in place that state all armed safety team members must do some sort of active shooter training by a reputable company to help reduce liability. James Simmons with Simmons Law Group explains the importance of church firearm training. "Unfortunately, a Church runs the risk of being sued whenever a safety team member fires their weapon. However, legal liability exposure is greatly reduced when safety team members are trained by professionals, there is proper documentation, and safety protocols are followed. Therefore, by being proactive and vigilant, you reduce the possibility of violence and mitigate the Church's legal liability."
Training like Situational Awareness, Threat Profiling, Verbal De-escalating and using tools such as Laser Shot shoot don’t shoot simulators assists safety team members with becoming proactive and not reactive in reducing violent encounters. It is critical that you employ the assistance of reputable companies that make church safety their primary focus. If the company’s main focus is not the expansion of the kingdom of God, be leery of their training techniques. Church safety teams are not a police department or a military unit, they are servants of God and the church. A person in need can be misidentified as a possible threat. If handled incorrectly and without compassion the encounter can lead to severe legal or civil liability, not to mention the missed opportunity to minister to someone in need. We cannot stress the importance of proper training from Christian based organizations like Trinity Security Allies.
All safety team members should hold themselves accountable to a high standard. When carrying a firearm inside the church to protect the flock, armed team members must understand that they are held to a higher standard because of the power they hold. We must not take this position lightly. Remember we are working on expanding the kingdom of God, all glory is to Him and we are his watchmen/watchwomen over His Bride. Remember “Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away”. 1 Peter 5:2-4.
For more information on this topic, go to TrinitySecurityAllies.com/Resources and download your free booklet on Carrying Weapons in Church.
[Reference: The Best and Worst Police Response Times of 10 Major U.S. Cities https://www.securitysales.com/news/best-worst-police-response-times/
I want to thank everyone for your thoughts and prayers over the Christmas holidays. Most of you know that my mother passed away Christmas day and I spent the next week in Virginia with the family and attending the funeral. I drove up to Virginia and had the chance to reflect on my mother’s life. My mother was an amazing person. Some who have known her might have called her opinionated, hardheaded and would not back down from a fight. They would be correct in all accounts but I feel my mother had that right. So today I am going to step away from Trinity Security Allies and talk a little about my mother.
Born in 1936, Mom was the oldest of five siblings. Her family was not rich but I heard they where hard working and provided for all the children. Mom would tell me that her father was tough on her and even though she didn’t talk about it, I felt there may have been some abuse in the family. In her teens she lost one of her brothers to an illness and years later she lost a sister in an automobile accident. She was married at 17 to my dad and proceeded to have 4 sons. The first three boys were only two years apart in age with my youngest brother not coming into the family until I was 14 years old.
The thing I remember about my mom and dad were they were both hard workers and had a strong religious beliefs. As early as I can remember I have always been in the church. We were Baptist so on Sunday we would go to Sunday school and then the Sunday service. We would head home for lunch and a possible nap and then back to church for the Sunday evening service. Even when we moved from Fort Worth to Glen Rose that tradition didn’t stop. The only difference was that First Baptist Church in Fort Worth and the First Baptist Church in Glen Rose was the size. In Glen Rose we knew all the church members and sometime our Sunday would be an all day church function. Sunday school, the service and lunch with a member’s family or at the church. Small town living. Our parents formed our base on family, hard work, going to church and loving the Lord. My brothers and I lived for making our parents proud of us and we worked really hard on not disappointing them.
When my father shot and killed a deacon of our church after a Sunday night service in 1970 the world that we had grown up in just fell apart. We moved from the small town comfort of Glen Rose and actuality got lost in the larger town of Pensacola, FL. I went from a graduating class of 35 to a class of over 300. At 16 years old I became bitter and angry about what had happened and my mother and I drifted apart. I resented the fact that she would not think about the past but always was looking at the future. She realized to think about the past would only cause her to loose focus on her mission in life, that of taking care of her four boys. We never went hungry, always had clothes to wear and a warm place to lay our head down at night.
Even though there was so much uncertainty at times, the three oldest boys never lost sight of our one mission in life. Making our mother proud. We feared disappointing her more than anything else. We knew right from wrong and believe me, we were no saints but the thing we feared the most was having her come and get us out of jail if we did something wrong. If we got into trouble we had told each other that we would beg the officer to keep us in jail because we knew our life was over as we knew it when she came to get us out of jail.
But there was the base. The Christian and the hard working base that seemed to keep us out of trouble. I know I tried but it was mostly stupid things that would get me a slap on the wrist and the wrath of Mom but nothing that I would spend time in jail for. She had instilled in us the golden rule; love your neighbors as you love yourselves. We were always polite and known as good boys that she could be proud of.
In 1975 when I joined Norfolk Police Department my mother stopped talking to me for a year. Not that police work wasn’t a noble job; it was that she feared I might get killed. She also had a dream of be getting into ministry work. When she finally started talking to me again, two of my brothers joined the force and now she was mad at me because she felt that I was the instigator on getting them to enlist in the force and now she had to worry about all three oldest. Later in my career Mom found some pictures of us when we were small. In every picture we had guns on. Even in our pajamas we were armed with our toy six-shooters. She gave me copies of the pictures with a note stating “I should have figured out that all of you boys were either going to be outlaws or lawmen. I am always proud of telling people what my boys do for a living.” At her eulogy, the pastor praised her for raising four boys that were servants. The three oldest serving the community and the youngest serving the Lord as a minister. That she could hold her head up high for her dedication and hard work she had put into us to build that base. She built our base and because of that we never disappointed her.
What does this have to do with Trinity Security Allies? When we started this ministry she was one of our biggest supporters. It was full circle, I was now serving God training people to protect the flock. She didn’t get her minister but she did get me back into the church. Without her base on God, family and hard work I would not be where I am today. According to MARRIpedia, an online social science encyclopedia on all matters related to family, marriage, and religion, the rise in violent crime parallels the rise in families abandoned by fathers and that neighborhoods with a high degree of religious practice are not high-crime neighborhoods. So because of my mother’s strong degree of trust in God, she had four boys that all became servants and not burdens to society.
If we do not get back to the family and our love of God we are going to see more and more violence against not only the family but also the church. When we look back at the recent church violent incidents we see broken men coming from broken families and we as the church need to step up and change this. Men with the help of our wives need to lead our families to what my mother and father did which was loving God and hard work, not just work but servanthood. This is the base that formed the Howard boys and needs to be the base that we use to change the world. Thank you Mom, I love you and know that I will see you again.
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.
We can always remember where we were on important dates in world history. I was in my 3rd grade class on November 22, 1963 when John F. Kennedy was shot in killed. Our teacher came into the classroom and told us we could go home because of the President’s death. I remember running home to tell my parents the news only to find them in front of the television watching as things unfolded. September 11, 2001 I was at work in Alexandria, Virginia. Wendy was in Iowa visiting her family showing off Jessica who was a little over 3 months old. I remember we had the television on at work when the first plane hit the North Tower of the World Trade Center. Nobody in the office was thinking attack, all I could think about was that Wendy and Jessica were about to leave her mom’s house and head to the airport. I called Wendy on the phone to see if she had seen the news, if she hadn’t, I wasn’t going to say anything because I didn’t want her to worry about traveling. When the second plane hit the South Tower Wendy called me on the phone and told me her flight had been cancelled and I told her not to worry we would figure something out. I could go on and on about where I was on certain dates, but this year’s conference is on an anniversary weekend of a date I will always remember exactly where I was at the moment and time I was notified about the Sutherland Baptist Church Shooting.
November 5th, 2017 started off like any other Sunday. I had gotten up and went to church, three services went by without a hitch. I was hoping that we would get out on time. The Dallas Cowboys had a 1:00 game and were playing the Kansas City Chiefs. It wasn’t on local television, so I was going to head over to Johnny Brusco’s to watch the game. Wendy decided we could do a working lunch while I watched the game. She wanted to hear about the church I had spoken at in New Port Richey the day before and the next few weeks were going to be hectic, so she wanted to put together a strategy plan. My mind wasn’t much on work because I was so into the game, we had a new quarterback and the best running back in the league. Kansas City was no push over and if the Cowboys could beat them, their season was looking better. Wendy was asking about the Saturday training and going over everything we had coming up that week when the first text came to my phone. Then the second one hit, “Are you watching this?”, “Shooting in small Texas church in Sutherland Springs, multiple causalities.” I opened my Fox News App on my phone and started watching the horror play out. Preliminary reports told us that they estimated the causalities in the 20’s but there could be as many as 50, the shooter used an AR-15 style weapon and was dressed in black tactical gear. I quickly looked at where Sutherland Springs was located because this place sounded like the town near where I grew up in Texas. Small town with the population of 600. I found that it was outside of San Antonio, about 4 hours from where I grew up.
Then the reports started to come in, 26 people killed with 20 others injured. The suspect was killed and was the son-in-law of one of the members of the church. Immediately I was taken back to my Saturday training. I told Wendy I had just told the church I feared the next attack against a church would be a domestic issue and here it was happening right in front of us. I don’t remember too much about the Cowboys’ game, I was still trying to wrap my head around what was unfolding in front of me because nothing made sense. I was angry, how could a gunman walk into a church and kill 26 innocent people and wound 20 more. My thoughts went to training; was this church not prepared for an incident like this one? Was there nobody armed in a small Texas church on that Sunday? Did the pastor tell them to leave their guns in the car? How could this happen?
I wanted answers. I got some, the shooter was dishonorably discharged from the Air Force for beating his wife and almost killing his infant son. Then there was another question, how did he get this weapon? He was seen a few days before the shooting at their church’s Halloween festival, dressed in all black which caused concerns of several members of the church. At the shooting, law enforcement officers advised the media that the shooter had 15 magazines capable of holding 30 rounds each. One newspaper stated that authorities estimate 700 rounds were fired in 11 minutes. Reports started to talk about the victims, the pastor was away that weekend, but his daughter was killed, a whole family attending the church was killed, it just went on and on. I remember walking around for several days upset about the event. It took me back to my situation and once again I raised my hand up to God and cried out WHY? What did the fine folks in Sutherland Spring do to deserve this carnage? I had to turn away from the news and focus on the week ahead but every time I had a chance, I was going online to find more answers about what happen in Sutherland Springs.
Then the media came to Sutherland Springs. “Never let a good tragedy go to waste”. If you know me, I don’t operate that way. When 9/11 happened, I was a consultant for a public safety software company that their product allowed all types of computers to talk to each other. Didn’t matter the platform they were running on; this software allows user from one law enforcement agency to search multiple agency’s systems like never before. The day after 9/11 when fires were still burning at the sites of the attacks, the CEO of the company called all of us together and said that we were going to have a retreat this weekend to discuss how the company could capitalize on what just happened. We were still looking for survivors and he was talking about making money. I left the company about two weeks later.
So, when the media started hitting Sutherland Springs, I am still mourning the dead and I wasn’t even involved in the incident. There were those that went out and, to me, used the incident for their own justification, ratings and their agendas. This just put me more into a tailspin. Give the families and friends of the victims a chance to bury their dead, let them have a moment to reflect on what had just happened and then after a while, let them tell their story. But so many of the “concerned” wanted to be the first to interview the victims and get their 15 minutes of fame with the ones that had lost so much; love ones, friends and the innocence of knowing that evil can come into even a house of worship and do the most vile thing possible.
I took a step back and though about my own story. I grew up in a small town and when I was 15, my mother and father had domestic issues. My father physically abused all of us and my mother took us and fled to friends of the family. The friend and his wife took us in with their eight kids until we could decide what was going to be our next move. The friend was a deacon of the church and was counseling my mother and father. One Sunday after a church service my father walked out of the service and shot and killed the deacon. I couldn’t talk about what happened for several years. I was at a class reunion not too long ago and when I started sharing my story, classmates looked at me and told me they never knew of my past. It was just something I didn’t want to talk about.
When we got into this ministry, I still didn’t like telling that story even though it was so important to the ministry. I would always leave it till the end of my training and it was one of those slides that “this can happen anywhere, even in a small Texas town” slides. Attendees would tell me I needed to put my story first in the training. I explained that I put it in the back because I didn’t want to take that tragedy and use it for personal gain. I felt uncomfortable talking about it first, I didn’t want to capitalize on a tragedy. So many attendees told me it gave me more validity to who I was. It was explained to me that we all have a story, this is what makes us who we are, and it puts a personal side to these types of incidents. After that we started putting my story in the front of the presentation and we could see the difference it made. I was telling people my story and they could relate because most knew me or had experienced a similar story.
So, when we planned our first conference, I wanted to bring in keynote speakers that had a story to tell. Once again not to capitalize on tragedy but to show the human side of people when faced with these types of situations. You see we read about these stories, but we don’t feel the human side of the story. We might read about it but when we hear their story it hits us right at home. It tells us it could happen to anyone and anywhere, including you and me.
For our first conference I had heard about a pastor in Kissimmee who was involved in a shootout with an employee at his church. I contacted Terry Howell not knowing how he would respond but he immediately accepted our invitation. Terry explained to me that he was in the process of letting an employee go, when the employee pulled a gun and at point blank range shot at Terry. The shooter missed Terry. God had other plans for him. Having him at the conference telling his story showed the human side of when evil walks into the church. We learned it didn’t have to be a stranger that walks in, we must always be prepared.
The following year I had no idea on what we were going to do for a keynote speaker. Once again God showed me, He was in control (I need to practice what I preach, He always has our back when we are following Him). I was invited to come down to St Pete and speak at a Florida Baptist pastors luncheon about our ministry. When I got there, they told me they had another pastor speaking who was at a Baptist church in Fort Worth, where a person walked in and killed 7 people. I knew immediately this had to be a pastor from the Wedgewood Baptist Church shooting.
I met Ron Holland who was a youth minister at another church in Fort Worth. He had taken a group of his kids to Wedgewood to see a youth play when evil once again walked into a church and started killing people. Being a little afraid that Ron might think I was an ambulance chaser and just wanted to exploit his story, I hesitantly asked him if he would come and talk at our conference. He immediately agreed to come and tell his story. What we didn’t realize was the day of 2nd conference was the 19th anniversary of the shooting. When Ron told his story there wasn’t a dry eye in the church.
So, coming up on this year I was not sure where we were going to go. I was looking for another story that we could relate to, to put that special person in front of the group to understand that these incidents are real, and they happen to everyday people like you and me. Of course, I didn’t see this one coming. God did, isn’t He something.
A friend of my wife told her about Julie Workman, a survivor from Sutherland Springs. I immediately knew the name Workman. You see Kris Workman was leading music on November 5th when evil struck in Sutherland Springs. Kris was one of those 20 survivors. He was shot twice, and it left him paralyzed from the waist down. So the name Julie Workman I figured was a family member of Kris Workman.
I found out that Julie was Kris’s mother. She and her two sons had survived the attack. So, I called Julie not knowing what to say and in a few awkward minutes on the phone she opened up with her story. I told her about our conference, and I wanted her to share her story. It is one of faith and how all of those involved pulled together and grew stronger. This is story you do not want to miss. The faith of the survivors at Sutherland Spring are the faith that Paul found with the early Christians who were being persecuted in the New Testament. Their faith will not be extinguished by a madman walking into their church. It will not die.
So, I invite you, if you have not signed up, there are still tickets for the conference. Come and listen to one of the most powerful testimonies you will ever hear. Come and hear Julie tell her story and know that God has a plan for everyone, no matter who you are, where you come from, what your background is. God has a story for all of us. David Colbath one of the Sutherland Springs survivors, who was shot eight times said it best "God had nothing to do with this," "Evil came into our church and evil tried to prevail, but evil didn't win, God won."
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.