Conducting a Vulnerability Assessment to Identify Risks for Worship Facility Attacks

by | Jun 29, 2022 | Administration, Security

By Chris Grollnek

Active Shooter Events (ASEs) continue to create safety concerns for the communities trying to live their lives. The daily reports of ASEs create fear, reduce confidence in facility security, and focus far too heavily on law enforcement. Active shooter events typically take place in less than eight minutes, and police response is between eight minutes and twelve minutes. A quick assessment of this timeline demonstrates that the people under attack in places of worship are actually the first first responders.

Understanding this timeline and creating a welcoming and safe place for people to gather and worship is a challenge for even the best security managers. Far too often, worship facilities rely on mostly volunteers, which in turn lean heavily on the congregation, including armed citizens. The reality is that the more a place has deterrents and fewer superficial fortress-like aesthetics, the better the deterrent.

It is incumbent upon us all to convey that these incidents are not as likely as we would think. It is more appropriate to be prepared and not scared. The key is to understand the vulnerabilities of a location, shore them up, share the changes with the congregants, and create plans. Once a plan is created, it needs to be practiced, and the facility’s posture will change exponentially.

A site physical security and prevention assessment is one way to manage the location’s deficiencies and strengthen the patrons’ confidence. Many people are capable of conducting assessments; however, experienced professionals conduct assessments with a layered approach, as if peeling back an onion.

A professional assessment analyzes the facility’s architectural and emergency action plans and observes the site as if it were at capacity. The goal is to understand what is in place, what could be added, what needs to be implemented, then to offer solutions for the most vulnerable areas.

An assessment can begin at any point on a property. A good starting point is to begin at the street view and access control points, fire plans, evacuation routes, and rally points. Moving inside the location, what technology is in place for notification and procedures? Most sites have plans; however, these plans are on someone’s computer or in a binder and rarely shared and, worse, hardly ever practiced. All of these issues are challenges to security managers and the volunteers asked to help with security. 

Most professionals who conduct assessments for security scenarios, including preventing active shooter events, start with a logical sequence. Therefore, recommendations should be in a logical order; for example:

  1. A prevention assessment to determine how threat information is received and disseminated, or “connecting the dots” of suspicious activities. Most violent events have people who knew or suspected something was wrong before an event. Almost 50% of all evil-doers tell someone of their intentions before they strike. There are ways to bring this information to the surface before an event, and it should be a focus of building a security plan. 
  1. Assessing the facility infrastructure and assets, including fire doors, access control systems, barriers, and surveillance cameras. Most facilities have shortfalls, and there are alternatives to construction remodeling for ballistic shielding such as Wingshield (https://www.wingshield.net/). 
  1. Considering advanced gun detection technology including Visual Gun Detection with Artificial Intelligence and Audible Gunshot Detection with Emergency Notification Systems to automate emergency response and communications. These early warning firearm detection systems notify law enforcement in seconds, whereas a human average is five minutes. Reducing five minutes of average response time for police can significantly reduce the scope of harm from the event. 
  2. Lunch & Learn(s) 45-minute presentations to staff and members. Educate your staff and worshippers that these events are possible but not probable. Understanding the events and how to respond is a great way to manage the fear factor of congregants. Access control procedures and new training for general and daily security and lockdown procedures. This is one of the most important offerings of location planning; share the information. 

Active Shooter Events take an emotional toll on the community. Most people want to “go on about life” while managing concern for their safety. Assessments are highly beneficial to facilitating the basic needs of safety through understanding vulnerabilities and risks. The key to successful assessment and implementation is sharing your plans with your membership community.

About the Author

Chris Grollnek is considered a Legacy Expert and one of the first active shooter experts in the country. With experience advising the highest levels of government, its departments, and agencies, Chris has written domestic policy to address prevention and response to active shooter events.

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