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Keep Them Out

Deter the Threat

Based on the Sheepdog Church Security training course
Active Shooter Neutralization and Lock Down Drills

Man putting lock on a door

October is National Fire Prevention Month, and this year October 7-13 is Fire Prevention Week. This is when we focus on protecting our loved ones and friends – and our homes, businesses, schools, and places of worship – from fire. The first steps in doing this are learning (1) how to prevent fires, (2) how to respond to them, and (3) what we need to do where we are. A fire risk assessment helps with the third step.

In The Bible

The Lord is a stronghold for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble (Psalm 9:9).

So the wall was finished on the twenty-fifth day of the month Elul, in fifty-two days (Nehemiah 6:15).

But no one can enter a strong man's house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man. Then indeed he may plunder his house (Mark 3:27).


Joe MacDonald was in the morning service with his family last week at Mission Road Chapel. This Sunday he is in the foyer on Safety Team duty. The service has just begun, and as the music from the opening song comes through the speakers, several latecomers enter.

As the greeter hands each visitor a bulletin and directs them to the side aisle doors of the worship center, Joe looks out the window, then at the tablet in his hand. The screen shows two views from outside surveillance cameras. Something catches his eye. He full-screens one view. A figure is furtively moving from the far left side of the parking lot, going from hiding behind one vehicle to another.

Joe steps to the door. Waiting for two more visitors to enter, he radios, "Code Orange 911, main door, repeat, Code Orange 911, main door," then tells the greeter and visitors to shelter. The last visitor in, Joe presses a button, and all doors are locked. Another button, the foyer lights go out. Looking out he sees the furtive figure now rushing at the church, carrying a rifle. Projectiles ricochet from bulletproof glass. Joe presses himself against the pillar next to the door, gun drawn, while the greeter and visitors run for a lockdown shelter. If the attacker gets in, he has a surprise awaiting.

The "Four Ds"

Fatal attacks on churches in the United States have increased since the killing of five people in Daingerfield, Texas in 1980 [3], especially so after a youth service at Wedgewood Baptist Church (Fort Worth, Texas) was attacked in 1999 [4]. Frequency has increased, with three in 2017 [5]. Interest in protecting our churches from violent assaults has increased.

We can summarize the ways of protecting churches from active shooter incidents as the "Four Ds" -

Initial Key Steps

Risk Assessment and Facility Assessment are two preliminary steps in developing and implementing an Active Killer Defense. The Facility Assessment is particularly applicable to the second D - Deter the Threat, especially regarding structural defenses. Another term for this is "site hardening."

The second part of deterring a threat is behavioral in nature - open resistance. Once a threat has been detected, the Safety Team, functioning as a security unit, begins to challenge the threat, aiming to defeat it. If the intended killer is still outside, this begins with denial of access, taking advantage of structural defenses.

Structural Defenses

First, the Facility Assessment should have identified all access points. The purpose here is crime prevention, which includes not only active shooter assaults, but burglary and arson. Not all assailants come through the front door. They may come in through side doors, windows, and louvered vents if they want to slip in unnoticed. All doors should be able to be locked quickly. A one-button remote locking system would ensure all doors were locked in a large building.

All windows and doors should be resistant to forced entry. Tempered glass with security mesh is recommended. If someone posing an immediate threat is outside, this makes it harder for them to get in. And once inside, bullet-resistant walls and inside doors make more secure lockdown areas. Some experts recommend ballistc barricades, impact resistant/absorbent materials for walls and doors, but the cost may be prohibitive for smaller churches.

Lighting may be another deterrent to those who would attack using the cover of darkness. This means light in the parking lot and the approaches to all doors. It facilitates detection, and exposes an approaching intruder to defensive fire from dark windows and doors.

Second, the Facility Assessment will discover security vulnerabilities, which should be corrected. These could be locks which cannot withstand a blow, or can be easily pried. Or they could be reached by an intruder breaking a window on the door or a side window. The intruder may be a burglar, but it could be an assailant intending to kill.

Third, this assessment should identify "safe areas" for lockdowns. To be suitable for a lockdown, the walls and door need to be resilient enough to resist gunfire. Occupants can hide from any windows. And the door can be locked and barricaded. Also, there should be a PA or room telephone so that security and law enforcement can communicate with those inside.

Fourth, look at communication systems in the church. Can you communicate with classrooms in real time without sending someone with a message? Classroom telephone receivers, a public address system or two-way radios on a separate channel are three viable recommendations.

How will you communicate with someone on the platform? With the office?

Open Resistance

The scenario above illustrates open resistance: denying access, alerting others, taking up a defensive position, and being ready to engage.

Deny Access

If the threat is outside when detected, the first line of defense is to deny access by locking all doors. This is easier if only the main door is open to entry - all others open only from the inside as "panic doors." If the assailant is breaking or shooting his way through the door, try to keep him from coming all the way in. An inside barricade, such as a table, can be shoved in the way.

Alert Others

Alert others of the intrusion or attempted entry. Others on the team can provide backup, get people to shelter, call 911, etc. Those with medical skills and those with First Aid training can be ready to treat the injured. Classes can lock down.

Take up Defensive Position

Joe took his position to the side of the door, but you might be elsewhere when an active killer assault begins. If you've sized up the space, you should know where you can find cover and/or concealment.

Be Ready to Engage

Joe was ready to engage the assailant, but we may not have the same opportunity. Be ready to do what you can.

Cooling Down

If a would-be assailant is not yet violent, perhaps he or she can be calmed down through verbal de-escalation. A peaceful end to a potentially disastrous situation is highly desirable.


Deterring an active killer assault means hardening the church building, making such an attack more difficult. This also means making the church more defensible in case such an attack occurs. We do not wish to turn our churches into fortresses, but we should take reasonable precautions. The chances that your church would be attacked may be very small, but the consequences if one happens make feasible measures to reduce that chance reasonable. Deterring the threat of such an assault helps the defenders to delay and defeat the assailant.

More on This Topic

To learn more about deterring the threat of an active shooter, get Sheepdog Church Security's free download here: _______________ .


  1. Sheepdog Church Security, Training bundle, "Active Shooter Neutralization and Lock Down Drills v.3" [].
  2. Sheepdog Church Security, Training bundle, "Active Shooter Neutralization and Lock Down Drills [].
  3. Wikipedia, "Daingerfield church shooting" [].
  4. Wikipedia, "Larry Gene Ashbrook" [].
  5. Earls, A., "How Common Are U.S. Church Shootings?", Facts & Trends, LifeWay, May 21, 2018 [].