The Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), in their study of attacks on Houses of Worship, said communication and preparedness are key to preventing attacks at worship facilities, and if they should occur, surviving them. (For our full analysis of the CISA recommendations, download our free Learning Series piece here). Similarly, church safety and security experts regularly state that church leaders should ensure that staff receive preparedness training not only in the event of an attack on a church, but for all emergencies.
“Don’t forget, there are many kinds of emergencies,” says Bobby Brasher, Worship Facility editorial advisor and Director of Security at Brook Hill School. “It doesn’t have to be an active shooter. It could be a fire, a fall, a heart attack. Your people have to be ready for all of them.”
But how can you train staff for all kinds of emergencies? Brasher notes that while many houses of worship have dedicated safety and security teams now, it’s important for every team at a church – from parking lot staff to office staff and deacons – to know what to do in case of an emergency. Large facilities can have untold numbers of staff, and small facilities, working primarily with volunteers and tiny budgets, have limited resources. Don’t worry, there are plenty of options.
Safety and first aid training
First, save time by finding out who among your staff may already be certified in First Aid and CPR. These staff wouldn’t need training, and could immediately be added to your facility’s ongoing list of staff who have certification. When you add new staff, find out if they’re certified, then add them to the list. Next, get your staff trained. It would be nice, but is likely not feasible, to have all your staff receive CPR and First Aid training. The goal is to have some people with training on hand at all times, for all services and church events, so there’s always at least one person who can respond in case of a cut, burn, or worse, a heart attack. Don’t lay all expectations on just one minister or staffer, because everyone needs a day off, and that person could be the one needing help. Try to have at least some members of each team – office, ministry, production, etc. – receive training.
There are many places where your staff can get First Aid training, including the Red Cross. One advantage to training with the Red Cross is, they tend to be everywhere. Another is, training is inexpensive. Plus, you can get your own staff certified as trainers, and then train people in your facility for free!
As we all learned in grade school, it’s important for everyone to know what to do in case of a fire, from where the fire extinguishers are to which exits to use, to where to gather outside. Your local fire department may agree to meet with staff to help you form that plan.
For further specific training on fire safety, you can consult with fire safety specialists, or purchase fire safety training software.
Security is many things, and some of them seem scary to house of worship leaders, who prefer to think of their facilities as holy, welcoming places where people can feel safe. And that’s the way it should be. Having a security team doesn’t mean you need to have people standing at all entrances in uniforms, looking menacing. What it does mean is, your staff needs to have skills to identify and respond to threats. Things as simple as saying hello to everyone who arrives and looking for odd behavior.
“If your a church in Texas and someone is hanging around your campus in long pants, a long sleeve shirt, and a trench coat, your people need to identify that as unusual and be ready to walk up to him and say hello, see what’s going on. Maybe he’s someone who has a known problem with someone in your church. You need to identify these behaviors, know what’s happening with your congregation, and address issues before they become serious threats.”
As with fire safety training, you may want to contact a church security expert or consultant to train your staff in these vital skills, help your leadership team develop response plans, and conduct a vulnerability assessment of your house of worship. Specialists can also help you identify what technology would help make your facility safer, from cameras to apps.
If you’re in a remote area, or there just aren’t any specialists near you, you may want to opt for on-line training for your church staff. While costs vary, there are many benefits, such as convenience – you don’t have to hold meetings to train your team members, just have them use the software. Also there’s a wide variety of topics, giving you the ability to select just some safety and security subjects, or everything from First Aid and CPR to Active Shooter Response, all handled right through your computer. There are several available, but HSI is one good example of a “one stop shop” for training.