We recently had a situation at our church where a mentally ill man entered our building on a weeknight and made phone call threats that he had a gun and was going to kill people. Fortunately, this occurred when regular services weren’t going on. However, we did have a variety of groups in the building. In a situation such as this one, our security had to take immediate steps to secure the building, determine if the man was still in the building, and lock down all areas that were in use.
For a leader, security involves more than just doing background checks on potential volunteers. It also involves having a plan to deal with emergency situations when you may need to either lock down or evacuate your facility. These are the steps you should consider taking before a serious situation arises.
1. Institute a zone system for your church facility, and have at least one trained security volunteer in each zone.
Equip these volunteers with some type of radio communication so they can talk with each other. Also, consider having a radio in every classroom. While it isn’t feasible to have a security volunteer in every classroom, it’s possible to create general zones that one person can oversee.
2. Institute a safety level system, such as the one the U.S. government now uses in the wake of 9-11.
Most of the time, the safety level is going to be on “green” in church, meaning there are no unusual circumstances or reasons to be more alert. If needed, though, the security team can raise the safety level to “yellow,” meaning all zone areas go into an enhanced, active mode of security. “Orange” would be reserved for very serious situations, and “red” would signal lockdowns or evacuations.
3. Create an evacuation plan for all classrooms and meeting rooms.
Your evacuation plan should include maps and directions for exiting the facility in an emergency. Post these in all locations. We practice our evacuation plan every week with our toddlers and preschoolers by having them take a walk outside of the classroom as they hold onto a rope.
4. Make a plan for a lockdown.
In the event you have to institute a lockdown and keep the kids in a classroom, have a way to close all windows and secure all doors.
5. Communicate your safety plan to parents at least once a year.
This can be done with a simple flyer or letter, letting them know what to expect and what to do in an emergency.
6. Purchase supplies needed for a major emergency at your church.
These should include a bullhorn, emergency first-aid kits, flashlights, and two-way radios. The best way to prevent a security problem from becoming a nightmare is through adequate preparation and planning.
Don’t assume someone else in the church is doing this. As caretakers of the most vulnerable people in your church, it’s up to you to prepare before a problem occurs.
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