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7 church security team responsibilities

How public safety officials can prepare faith-based groups for the commonplace and out-of-the-ordinary incidents that might befall citizens in their houses of worship

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Law enforcement vehicles are seen parked outside West Freeway Church of Christ as authorities continue to investigate a fatal shooting at the church, Sunday, Dec. 29, 2019, in White Settlement, Texas.

AP Photo/David Kent

Jack Wilson, a West Freeway Church of Christ parishioner, firearms instructor and member of the church’s security team, fired a single shot, killing an assailant in the church sanctuary. Wilson’s actions, supported by other church security members, surely saved lives on Dec. 29.

Churches and other houses of worship are targets of opportunity for assailants. Twenty-six people were killed in a Sutherland Springs, Texas church on Nov. 5, 2017. A single gunman killed 11 and wounded 6 others at Pittsburgh synagogue on Oct. 27, 2018.

Protecting parishioners, worshippers and congregants from an attacker intent on mass murder is a critical responsibility of a church security team. But it is a missed opportunity for injury prevention and life safety to make it the only responsibility. For the faith organizations in your community considering a church security team or re-invigorating an existing team after Wilson’s heroic actions, public safety leaders should encourage team members to accept and prepare for these other responsibilities:

1. Sunday syncope

The most common response to a church is for a fainting spell, known in EMS as Sunday Syncope. Church security team members, already willing volunteers and potentially with some public safety experience, should be able to ensure the patient after a fainting spell is breathing adequately, managing their own airway, and monitored while waiting for EMS to arrive. A few quick assessments can help distinguish fainting from stroke, myocardial infarction, hypoglycemia, opioid overdose or alcohol intoxication.

2. Retrieve and apply an AED

Every churchgoer should know the location of the nearest AED. Church security team members are ideal candidates to watch a short training video, complete a manikin simulation with local EMS, or read an article on how to use an AED.

3. Stop severe bleeding from any cause

A fall on the steps leading into the sanctuary, foodservice mishap or a vehicle collision in the parking lot are far more likely mechanisms of traumatic injury in or near a church. Stop the bleed training is available for civilians through LEA self-training or from local EMS educators.

4. Notice who’s there and who isn’t

West Freeway Church of Christ attendees took note of the shooter as being out-of-place in the church. Regularly attending church security members should take note of new attendees as a security precaution, but also take note of regular churchgoers who are missing. It is especially important to follow-up with elderly attendees that have an unusual church absence. A call after the service to make sure the person is well could help recognize a medical problem before it becomes an emergency.

5. Injury prevention

Connect a church security team to broader risk management efforts to prevent slips and falls, collisions in the parking lot or safe storage of hazardous cleaning products from children.

6. Lead the way in case of emergency

Just as school children practice fire alarm evacuations and active shooter lockdown drills, church attendees can practice and prepare for situations that might require rapid, orderly evacuation or to shelter in place. Members of the church security team, by virtue of their volunteering to protect life safety and status within the membership, are excellent candidates to direct others when to evacuate because of fire alarm or CO alarm, or when to shelter in place because of a tornado.

7. Use of force

Wilson, as a former reserve deputy and firearms instructor, surely knew that use of force exists on a continuum. Thankfully Wilson, within seconds of the attack beginning, stopped a lethal attack with lethal force. As all police officers – retired and active – know, not every situation will require lethal force and members of the church security team should select the use of force appropriate to the variety of situations they might encounter.

Finally, EMS, fire and law enforcement leaders, the door is open for communication and collaboration with the faith groups in your community. Here are some questions to discuss when you pay a friendly visit:

  1. What are ingress/egress routes to the sanctuary, childcare and other gathering areas? Are those monitored or access-limited during services or other open areas?

  2. If the ambulance is called to church, what is best ingress/egress for the vehicle and EMS personnel? Is there a patient treatment area near the sanctuary where an ill attendee is likely to self-evacuate or be moved to before EMS arrives?

  3. Are there situations/events where public safety should not respond with lights and sirens? Will you request no lights and sirens to the 911 telecommunicator?

  4. If a patient refuses EMS transport, will church security team members monitor the person after EMS leaves and call EMS back to the scene if needed?

Learn more about active violence in houses of worship

Learn more about EMS, fire and law enforcement response to acts of violence at churches, synagogues and houses of worship with these resources from EMS1 and PoliceOne:

Greg Friese, MS, NRP, is the Lexipol Editorial Director, leading the efforts of the editorial team on Police1, FireRescue1, Corrections1 and EMS1. Greg served as the EMS1 editor-in-chief for five years. He has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a master’s degree from the University of Idaho. He is an educator, author, national registry paramedic since 2005, and a long-distance runner. Greg was a 2010 recipient of the EMS 10 Award for innovation. He is also a three-time Jesse H. Neal award winner, the most prestigious award in specialized journalism, and the 2018 and 2020 Eddie Award winner for best Column/Blog. Connect with Greg on LinkedIn.
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