The Best Results In An Active Shooter Situation Is That No One Gets Shot, And That Includes The Shooter.
I made that statement at a church safety seminar in North Carolina. Once the announcement sunk in they looked at me like I had insulted their families. This is one of those issues that has been bothering me for some time. I continue to hear stories of safety teams that spend a lot of time, money and effort on training on how to confront an active shooter instead of guaranteeing the safety of those around them. They go to these firearms classes that teach them how to come out of the pew firing away at the active shooter. I watch them take classes on how to clear your house in case you hear an intruder or I heard one church was using police resources to learn how to go room to room and find a hidden shooter. Every time I hear of a safety team that spends more time on how to take down a shooter instead of planning on how to protect those in a church shooting I cringe.
In our church safety training we talk about knowing your campus and positions. One position, a rover driving around your facility looking for anomalies is a priority. Why do we say anomalies instead of threats? If your rover is only looking for the man in or getting out of his car with the weapon in his hands he may miss the child that was accidentally left in his car seat while the parents are in church. We deal with these types of families every Sunday morning, you know the type that come running like their hair is on fire, total chaos. Checking their kids in 5 minutes before church starts, kids still half dressed with their tooth brushes still in their mouths, we all know the type. I have seen families, that are running late, trying to gather all their kids and necessities they need for church forgetting to shut the van door, turn their vehicle off or forgetting the diaper bag next to the back tire. They are one step away from leaving that child in the car seat. Remember I live in Florida and our winters can get quite warm, think about our summers.
Over the years we have seen several deaths of infants left in a car seat from the parents just being too busy, forgetful or doing something really stupid. When I read of two incidents at churches back in 2016 I started having my rovers look into vehicles with car seats to make sure they are always empty when the parents are in church. I don’t want it to happen in our church and I am sure you would regret it happening at yours. I had one church contact me because they kept having cars pull up in their church parking lot, driver staying in the car for a short period of time then drive recklessly away when their rover approached them. It caused them some alarm with all the activity. They found out Pokémon Go had a character in their parking lot and all those playing the game kept coming in and leaving. When people were coming and going between services it became a hazard. So, train your rover in the parking lot to look not only for threats, but also anomalies. Make sure you stress the importance of your rovers. They are our first line of defense in cases of an active shooter.
In our threat profiling we look at normal human behavior patterns to detect a possible threat. We must be trained in what to look for before it has the opportunity to strike. Once we put into play that this person is a threat then we must start making moves to protect those on the church property. It may be confronting the threat or it may be warning those around of the situation. In Sutherland springs we have learned that the shooter started shooting outside the church, killing two church members. He then began shooting at the building with several hundred rounds before entering the church. The shooter exited his vehicle dressed in black tactical gear wearing a bullet proof vest and carrying an AR-15 style rifle. When we look at the shooting at the Burnette Chapel Church of Christ in Antioch, Tennessee, the shooter was wearing a ski mask with two handguns as he got out of his vehicle and made his way to the church. On the way into the church he shot and killed a member as she was leaving. Before they could react, the shooter was in the building. Both churches did not have a plan or a team to be watching for these threats as the threat got out of their vehicle and started their killings. We need to watch outside as much as we watch inside.
Back to active shooter. Pasco County Sheriff’s Office has started its ABCs for school safety in the event of an active shooter. Alert, Barricade and Counter. Notice the order. The first thing you need to do is Alert 911, get the troops on the way. I want everyone coming. Alert others and move to a safe place. The second thing is to Barricade yourself behind something, preferably a solid wooden door with a lock. If you have desk and chairs start piling them against the door and then turn off the lights and wait for help to arrive. The last thing, if you have no other option is to Confront. This should be the last thing in an active shooter situation at a church. Even if you have Safety Team members that are already in contact with the shooter, others need to be slowing the injuries and deaths down by finding safety in locked rooms.
Let’s take a few minutes and look at the dynamics of an active shooter. The shooter wants to kill as many people as they can before the police, or some outside force stops them. They are going to be shooting at anything that moves, but if we take the targets away, haven’t we done the right thing? If the shooter has nothing to shoot at and knows that the police are on the way, the best thing for the shooter to do is either leave or wait to confront the cavalry. Once you start the shooting at the bad guy, unless you’re the best shot in the world and take him out with the first shot, then there will be bullets flying. The more and more bullets that are buzzing around the more loved ones or people you know are in danger of being hit.
One last thought of the dynamics of an active shooter. Most modern projectiles will go through walls. If you have confronted your active shooter in front of your children’s ministry you have now put them right in the gunfight. As I said once you start shooting not only do you have to be concerned about where your bullets are going, you also have to worry about the shooters rounds penetrating walls and hitting people you know and love. If you must confront the shooter, try to move them away from the church or populated areas. How do we do that? We need that rover in the parking lot that can sound the alarm and while other Safety Team members are locking down the interior, you may want to move out to the perimeter, find cover and confront the shooter outside if possible. No contradiction here, just showing you to have multiple plans in protecting the church. The first must be the lockdown or barricade taking the targets away from the shooter. Slowing down the shooter how ever possible until the cavalry arrives is the next step.
Right after the Aurora Movie Theater shooting I was talking to a friend about active shootings and he asked me what I would do if I was at a movie theater with my family and a guy walked in and started shooting. I told him my main priority was making sure my family was safe, get them down on the floor, if near an exit get them out of the theater. After that I would respond to the threat and this is because of my police training. The last thing you want to do is put your loved ones right in the middle of a gunfight. The same thing goes with your church. We have to protect the flock before we put them right in the middle of an exchange of bullets. We need to have a plan and train others to keep the flock out of harm’s way. Just have a couple of plans on how you would protect those in an active shooter situation and work the plan. No plan means more casualties. Even if the plan is a bad plan, at least it’s been discussed. Give me a call and let’s work on a couple of plans of how to protect your flock …against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Ephesians 6:12.
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.