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Get the Message

Communication for Safety Teams

Church Safety & Security Volunteer Academy

Two people communicating through a tin can phone


[Reporting to a superior] And the servant told Isaac all the things that he had done (Genesis 24:66).

[Calling a team together] “Go and gather the elders of Israel together and say to them, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, has appeared to me’” (Exodus 3:16).

[Calling a truce] Then Abner called to Joab, “Shall the sword devour forever? Do you not know that the end will be bitter? How long will it be before you tell your people to turn from the pursuit of their brothers?” And Joab said, “As God lives, if you had not spoken, surely the men would not have given up the pursuit of their brothers until the morning” (2 Samuel 2:26-27).

[A request] And he called to her and said, “Bring me a little water in a vessel, that I may drink.” And as she was going to bring it, he called to her and said, “Bring me a morsel of bread in your hand” (1 Kings 17:10-11)

[Peer to peer information] Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph” (John 1:45)

[Coordinating actions] And Judah said to Simeon his brother, “Come up with me into the territory allotted to me, that we may fight against the Canaanites. And I likewise will go with you into the territory allotted to you.” So Simeon went with him (Judges 1:3).


These are only a few of the news stories about miscommunication in areas of security:

Poor Communication Hinders Manhunt

March 11, 2005, Atlanta, Georgia - A defendant on trial for rape and abduction grabbed the sidearm of a sheriff's deputy, wounding her, and killed the judge, a court reporter, and another deputy. Then he fled, hijacking a number of vehicles on the way, and triggering a multi-jurisdictional manhunt. The manhunt took much longer than it should have, generating a lot of criticism from the public. [1]

According to the Atlanta police chief, poor communications hindered the manhunt. Among the cited issues were lack of common frequencies and different radio codes. [2]

Erroneous 911 Call Leads to Civilian Hospital Lockdown

May 14, 2018, Dublin, Ohio - An error in communication at a hospital in this Columbus, Ohio, suburb led to a 911 call reporting a threat at the ER. The hospital went on lockdown as police searched the building. They determined that there was no threat, and the call resulted from miscommunication. [3]

Misunderstanding of Active Shooter Drill Leads to Military Hospital Lockdown

August 2, 2018, Dayton, Ohio - An observer on Wright-Patterson Air Force Base (WPAFB) mistook an active shooter drill at the base hospital for a real attack and reported it to base security. WPAFB air police, firefighters, and EMTs responded, as well as state, local, and federal agencies. The hospital was locked down and evacuated as security personnel combed through the buildings. The lock on one door was shot open during the search.


Lack of communication, poor transmission, incorrect information, misunderstanding, and other failures to communicate effectively can lead to lack of response, improper response, needless response, and other errors. The consequences range from harmlessly comical to tragic. In almost all cases there is a cost. Even if it is only a loss of respect, it can hinder future effectiveness of a military unit, a law enforcement agency or a safety team.

It does not take much figuring to see that the incidents related above resulted in significant financial costs. Actual audits would only add to our initial estimates. In Atlanta, the poorly coordinated manhunt cost extra personnel hours and eroded public confidence in local law enforcement agencies. The police chief called for resolution of the issues so multiple agencies could communicate more effectively during emergencies.

For a church safety ministry, an improper or inadequate response to an emergency may possibly lead to greater property damage, personal injury and/or death, lawsuits, and insurance claims. This is part of the potential cost of not learning, practicing, and exercising good communication practices. This is why communications (more specifically radio procedures and writing reports) is in the Church Safety and Security Volunteer Academy [5].


We can communicate better by telephone and on the radio if we first learn how to communicate effectively face-to-face. The elements of speaking personally are talking clearly (tone and pronunciation), keeping focused on the subject, providing necessary information, and using terms understood by the listener. Safety team members doing this will talk more effectively with each other, with the safety director or shift leader, with church staff, and with attendees.


According to the Academy, "Any time that the security team is involved in any non-routine action, an incident report should be thoroughly completed." The Church Safety Ministry should have blank incident report forms available. These have lines for date, time, place, incident category, and names of persons involved, as well as space for describing the incident and lines for the name and signature of the team member.

An incident report needs to be made as soon as it is practical after the incident, immediately filed with the Safety Director or Team Leader, and entered into the Security Incident Report Log.


Some safety and security incidents require communicating with outside agencies: fire department, law enforcement, emergency medical responders, health care facilities, highway department, towing services, and utilities. Safety team members need to know how to reach these services and how to talk with them. Numbers for them should be programmed into the church telephone, as well as team members' mobile phones, and also be on a list available in the safety office and church office.


"Ten-Four, Good Buddy."

Until they have to use two-way radios for a job, that's as much as many people know about radio communication. The Safety and Security Academy covers radio procedures in this order:


Earbuds should be worn with two-way radios when working on a Church Safety Team. There are a number of advantages to wearing earbuds, including: they are non-disturbing in a service, they keep what is said confidential, and they make it easier to hear in a noisy environment.


Wear radios on each shift, turn them in at the end of the shift, and leave them on campus..


Use the radio only for safety team business. No profanity or obscenities. No casual conversations. No derogatory remarks. No music.

Be courteous and wait your turn. Keep it brief and to the point. Address specific persons by name. Sign off when finished.

Plain English

To be frank, "Ten-Four" is not in our book. Plain English (Plain Spanish if a Hispanic congregation) is preferred. The main reason is that all team members can understand it. The Academy has a list of nine standard Plain English words and phrases for radio use and what they mean.

Approved Codes

There are some codes recommended for safety team use. These are fairly common - some of them are used by store security. The list is six colors (Red, Blue, Pink, Orange, Yellow, Green) plus 911. For example, Code Red is fire, and Code Blue is a medical emergency. One advantage is that whatever details are provided, beginning the call with the code alerts team members to the nature of the alert. Another advantage, if overheard, it will not panic those who don't know the codes.


This was the title of a previous article on this subject. It means, "Do you understand?" The purpose of the Church Safety and Security Volunteer Academy is to help team members understand how to do the work of a Church Safety Ministry, including communication. This course and others are available in two formats: downloadable classroom Training Bundles [6], and Online Training [7].


Sheepdog Church Security, Online Training, "Church Safety and Security Volunteer Academy" [].

Sheepdog Church Security, Training Bundles, "Church Safety / Security Volunteer Academy, v3" [].


  1. Dewan, Shaila, "Man Flees After Killing Judge and 2 Others at Atlanta Court", New York Times, March 11, 2005 [].
  2. [Anon.], "Police: Manhunt marred by poor communication",, Friday, March 18, 2005 Posted: 1:45 PM EST (1845 GMT) [].
  3. By NBC4 Staff, "'Miscommunication' causes lockdown at Dublin Methodist Hospital", Local News, WCMH-TV, Updated: May 14, 2018 02:33 PM EDT [].
  4. By NBC4 Staff , "Wright-Patterson lockdown was caused by 'misunderstanding'", State news, WCMH-TV, Updated: Aug 02, 2018 04:25 PM EDT [].
  5. Wright-Patterson account of lockdown on 2018-08-02, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base (WPAFB), @WrightPattAFB, August 2, 2018 [].
  6. Sheepdog Church Security, Training Bundles [].
  7. Sheepdog Church Security, Online Training [].