Protecting Your Faith Community:
Building a Successful Security Team
by Roger Mason PhD
Your faith community has decided to organize a security team. The mission of this team is to protect your community from a variety of threats. Six critical factors can improve the capabilities of your team and increase your margin of safety. These factors are planning, tactics, organization, documentation, equipment, and training.
Effective planning is the foundation of a successful security program. Your goal should be to keep your planning simple and flexible. The purpose of your security program should be to protect your faith community in the least obtrusive way possible. You should develop a standardized set of procedures for common circumstances. Once you establish a basic set of plans you can focus on contingencies.
Types of Plans
There are three types of plans. Operational plans (How do we normally operate?), immediate action plans (What will we do if….?), and contingency plans (How will we manage….?).
Your operational plans are how you usually operate. These plans should cover all the tasks and procedures that occur during your services.
Immediate Action Plans
Immediate action plans are a set of standardized procedures that will be employed if a specific circumstance occurs. You should develop immediate action plans for:
- Armed intruders
- Service disruptions (protestors, mentally disturbed subjects)
- Medical emergencies
- Campus lockdowns
- Disasters or emergencies
Your goal is to have a simple set of procedures for different circumstances. Having these plans will improve your ability to respond quickly to a variety of situations.
Contingency plans should be developed for a variety of events such as protests, conferences, or special events. Contingency plans should consider the type of event, the stakeholders, crowd and traffic control, environmental factors, care concerns, and resource management. Environmental factors may include issues like the weather. Care concerns involve the people at the event (ex: children, seniors). If you are hosting an event involving senior citizens on the hottest day of the year, you need to be prepared for medical emergencies. Your contingency plans should also consider your resource management. For example, how many security team members or volunteers are available for this event?
Tactics are the specific procedures needed to employ your plans.
Your Tactical Objectives
Your tactics should be limited and standardized according to the limitations of your team. You are relying on a group of volunteers who will not have the time or expertise to employ complicated tactical plans.
Developing a Tactical Foundation
A tactical foundation is where your tactics begin. Your tactical foundation is the basis for what you will do to protect the congregation. These foundational principles should be broad in concept, limited in number, and simple in application. Your tactics should be no more complicated than your available training time to practice them.
To develop your tactical foundation, make up a list of what you want to accomplish in any situation. An example of a tactical foundation:
- Move to contact any threat.
- Isolate the suspect and limit their movement.
- Neutralize the threat using every option beginning with verbal commands.
- Evacuate nearby bystanders.
By developing a tactical foundation, everyone on your security and usher team already knows what to expect should an incident occur. If a subject suddenly stands up and begins yelling during the sermon, everyone knows what to do. The security team will move to isolate the subject, prevent their free movement, and attempt to neutralize them using voice commands. The ushers will move to protect people seated near the subject and help to evacuate them. Response to the threat is immediate because everyone knows what to do.
Observing suspicious behavior is the first step in any response. The goal is to evaluate a person’s appearance and actions. How does this person look? How are they acting, and what are they doing? Faith centers want visitors. Sometimes these visitors do not look like your regular members. They may be unfamiliar with the social and spiritual norms of your services. Their unusual behavior does not necessarily mean they are a threat. The goal is to determine the difference between inappropriate behavior and threatening intent.
Your first line of defense is your greeters and ushers. They will see the person first.
The first indicator is their clothing. Are they overdressed for the weather or wearing bulky clothing or clothing that hides their face? Is the person carrying a large backpack or package? Is the person talking to themselves? Are they watching and participating in the service or looking around? Does this person appear intoxicated? Are they responsive to verbal interaction? Most importantly, does the person appear to be hiding or disguising their appearance.
Four Critical Errors
There are four critical errors in evaluating possibly suspicious behavior.
Rationalization: “I’m sure they will be ok.” This is based on the false hope that this person is not a threat.
Overconfidence: “I/we can handle this.” It is dangerous to make assumptions that you are prepared for anything when dealing with the unknown.
Familiarity Bias: “We have dealt with this guy before. He is not a threat.” Do not base your expectations on your past experiences. Every tactical situation must be evaluated on the immediate circumstances.
Minimization: “We will just watch him.” Avoid making assumptions that may prove to be faulty. You may determine the best course of action is to watch a subject, but you must be prepared to take direct action if the circumstances change.
Striking a Balance
The simplest solution to uncertain situations would seem to be direct action eliminating the possibility of an incident. This solution is not practical or sensitive. This does not mean you must wait until a subject takes a hostile action. You need to strike a balance using good observation skills and a variety of tactical options beginning with verbal contact. This balance also means you are prepared to decisively intervene.
You need to select an organizational plan that works for your church. The three basic plans are unarmed, armed, and a hybrid. Many churches employ a hybrid model with an armed team, unarmed security members, and volunteers. Every team needs a person designated as your head of security. This person will work with your leadership, direct team operations, and represent your team with local first responders.
An important issue is who is in charge when an emergency occurs. There will not be time to collect the members of an elder or church board. One solution is to develop a crisis management team. This team is typically three people representing the church board, the pastors, and the security team. The crisis management team is in charge until the situation stabilizes, and the entire board can be convened.
Documentation is some of the best insurance your community can buy. By establishing a church security team, you are taking the responsibility to protect the members of your congregation. This may involve confrontations with a variety of threat actors. It is vital that you maintain records when incidents occur.
For any contact, crime, or event, a simple incident report should be completed. An incident report does not have to be complicated. It should have a standardized format, so all your incident reports are organized the same. It should include the date and time when the incident occurred, everyone that was involved, any witnesses, information about the subject who was involved, and a brief description of what occurred.
It is not uncommon to have repeated incidents with the same person. These subjects are processing through the criminal justice, mental health, or rehabilitation systems. These persons often return to the same churches where they were originally removed. It is important to have records of who they are. Having their photo is valuable. Subjects often change or attempt to disguise their appearance.
All incident reports, police reports, court documents, court orders, documents such as no trespass orders must be preserved. This will be important if you are sued or need to take legal action against this subject. As a subject’s repeated behavior escalates so must your legal actions. You must be able to show clear documentation about what has occurred to support your case in court.
You should preserve your contingency plans. These are plans that you prepare for a single event or a special situation. Having copies of prior plans is useful for future planning. You may need to produce these plans during legal actions.
There is no limit to how much money you can spend on security equipment. There are basic types of equipment that every team should have.
No matter how big or small your team is, one of the most important pieces of equipment is your radios. You need handheld radios with earpieces. If possible, purchase a radio with multiple channels for other important groups such as facilities and medical teams.
You should establish a communications base. The bas can be as simple as a person monitoring all radio communications with a hardline phone. This person is your lifeline to 911 assistance. Do not rely on a cell phone for this function. Cellular service can be sporadic, and wireless 911 can be less reliable. The hardline 911 phone system will automatically pinpoint your location.
You should have a battery powered public address system that is portable. A handheld system should be available in your worship center in case of power outage. This allows you the freedom to move if you need to provide directions such as evacuating the building.
Many churches and temples are installing security cameras. They are valuable and can provide both situational awareness and a protective record. If you have a small system, your base operator can handle communications and monitor the cameras. As your systems become larger you should have a dedicated operator for communications and the camera. You should maintain a log, so you have a record of who was on duty at these positions.
Having a medical team is just as important as a security team. The medical team is comprised of volunteers with medical or emergency response training such as an emergency medical technician or a paramedic. You should have a trauma bag and an automated external defibrillator. These items should be readily available in your worship center.
There are basic pieces of equipment every member of your team should carry. All ushers and volunteers should be carrying a small tactical flashlight no matter the time of day. As many persons as possible should be equipped with a radio. If you have an armed team they should have a concealed carry holster, spare magazine, radio, flashlight, and handcuffs.
Your team needs training. Having standardized plans and tactics will simplify the extent of your training. Each team member must know their job and how they fit into your plans and tactics. The entire team must be trained, from volunteers to armed team members.
You should establish a regular and recurring training schedule. Document your training. The documentation should include the content, who conducted the training, and who participated.
There has been a strong emphasis on arming security details. There is value in having this capability. Protecting your faith community requires careful management of your security team. Your program requires plans to direct it and tactics to employ these plans. Sound organization helps you to optimize your operations. Documentation preserves important information and helps to protect you from litigation. Equipment enables your team to operate effectively. Training ensures your team is ready to use your tactics to employ the plans. No team can promise perfect security, but thoughtful management and careful program development can improve your program’s effectiveness.