From the Bible
Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8).
Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences ... (Romans 16:17).
*Note: Paul said to take note of troublemakers in the church. We should take note of any indication that a person may be a risk of violent action.
And, lo, I perceived that God had not sent him; but that he pronounced this prophecy against me: for Tobiah and Sanballat had hired him (Nehemiah 6:12).
*Note: Nehemiah saw through the deceit of his enemies and discerned the threat (see verse 2).
Then shall ye return, and discern between the righteous and the wicked, between him that serveth God and him that serveth him not (Malachi 3:18).
*Note: We need to discern signs of wrong intentions.
Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares (Hebrews 13:2).
*Note: Not everyone who comes in is an angel. Some may be troublemakers.
Have you ever heard something like this, "He's all eyes and ears, never misses a thing"? Now that's alertness!
Alertness is the first line of defense. Cities and military posts have been taken because sentries were distracted, or were asleep, or did not recognize a threat in what they saw. The role of situational awareness in the church is recognizing threats and needs. Here are a few examples of what it recognizes:
- Medical emergencies,
- Fire hazards and fire,
- Theft or vulnerability for theft,
- Weak points in access control,
- Confrontations which might boil over,
- Abuse of children or other vulnerable persons, and
- Threats of violence.
In the News
New Miami, Ohio, February 18, 2021 - Church staff arriving for work on a Thursday morning found a black bag lying in front of the door. Concerned it might be a bomb, they called police. The bomb squad came to check the bag. Hearing a purring sound, they unzipped the bag. Inside was another bag with a mother cat and six newborn kittens. The owner left a note in the bag saying he was unable to care for the cats. Momma Kitty and kits were taken to a shelter for adoption.
* Not every suspicious object turns out like this. It's safer to call the police.
Burr Ridge, Illinois, November 17, 2017 - Parents bringing their children to a church's preschool saw a man waiting there who asked them questions about the school and the church. At least one of the parents called 911 reporting a suspicious person. Responding police were told that the man, who was seeking help, had been told to wait for the church to open.
* Considering the questions the man was asking, it's not surprising the parents became suspicious.
Unknown location, sometime on or before April 23, 2019 - A Quora user asked whether they should "be worried" because a "suspicious looking car" parked for some time in front of their house with someone sitting in it. When the user went to the mailbox, the car moved to the next house and sat there. Various answers were given. One advised on how to approach the driver. Several others said to call the police.
* This was not at a church, but is an example of noticing suspicious activity.
Keene, New Hampshire, May 8, 2011 - On a Sunday morning at a prominent church in Keene, a man carrying a Bible and dressed in all white entered the sanctuary during the service. He walked up to the front, didn't say anything, but stood there listening to the sermon. Parishioners called 911 and reported a suspicious person. When police arrived, the man left peacefully (the author goes to another church and heard the story the next morning on a local radio news broadcast).
* Violating social norms is a suspicious activity.
Nashville, Tennessee, November 7, 2021 - Near the end of a Sunday service, while the pastor was praying with someone on the platform, a man who was not a member got up from his seat in the front, pulled out a handgun, walked up to the pulpit, set down a book, and waved his weapon at the congregation. The pastor tackled the gunman and other members held him down.
* No mention is made of suspicious behavior before the gunman pulled out his weapon, indicating that perhaps no one was watching him until that moment.
Ocala, Florida, November 8, 2015 - The accountant of a church noticed a scarcity of cash in the offerings. He suspected that cash was being taken from offering baskets, and contacted the police.
Detectives set up surveillance cameras focused on taking offerings. In consecutive services an usher was seen taking cash from the baskets while parishioners were praying with eyes closed after the offering had been collected. The next Sunday plainclothes officers were present during the service. They observed the same usher taking cash and stuffing it into his pockets and arrested him.
* Be alert for signs of suspicious activity. Also, have someone watching when others have their eyes closed.
Bowie, Maryland, March 22, 2022 - A lawsuit by a retired AME pastor alleges that bishops and other officers are liable for letting the former head of the denomination's retirement plan be the sole investor of its funds. Risky investments led to the loss of about $100 Million, impoverishing the retirements of AME pastors and staff. Now the denomination, with a new director of Retirement Services, will not let one person make investment decisions alone.
* Accountability depends on others being aware of a person's actions.
Videocast Show Notes
Every week, Kris covers the weekly article in a podcast/videocast. He shares his perspective on the article's subject, often adding to the material and/or homing in on a key point. In the comments beneath the videocast is a link to the Show Notes, essentially an article summary. These notes are available for one week (one month in the case of a Lessons Learned from Church Shootings article) from the date of posting. You can subscribe to the Sheepdog Church Security Academy channel on YouTube.
In regard to the subject of this article (All Eyes & Ears), Kris discussed Situational Awareness with Simon Osamoh of the Worship Security Association.
In the news story from Nashville, people in the church were caught unawares by a gunman who'd been sitting there until he pulled out his weapon. Fortunately he did not start shooting immediately. This gave the pastor time to see him and tackle him, so no one was shot. Otherwise, there could have been one or more people wounded.
Almost six-and-a-half years earlier, those attending a Bible study at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston were caught unawares, and nine of them were killed.
The news story from Ocala illustrates the fact that being alert to anything suspicious can lead to stopping a thief. The Bowie, MD, story shows the potential cost of not being alert. The denomination was caught unawares by misguided or fraudulent financial dealings. Local churches have been caught unawares by embezzlers.
The Art of Situational Awareness
Each of us is naturally aware of some things. We have unconsciously been conditioned to notice most of them. We have learned others through our activities and education. When we become responsible for the safety and security of others, we must learn how to be effectively aware of any threats to safety and security. Let's consider spherical awareness (the area of our awareness), the colors (levels) of awareness, the awareness process (OODA Loop), and self-drilling (practicing) awareness.
We have been explaining the area of our awareness in terms of angles and directions. Here's a simpler way to describe it: Spherical Awareness. Think of yourself in the middle of a sphere. Be aware of all the parts of that sphere that can be visible to you. Part of it may be cut by a wall - be aware of the area between you and that wall. The same goes for what is above, below, and the rest of the way around.
This is visual awareness. Also exercise audible awareness of whatever sounds you hear. Then add tactile awareness - what you feel, such as the vibrations of footsteps, a floor moving, etc. Actually, try to be aware with all your senses. Do you smell smoke?
Color Me Aware
Our level of awareness is keyed to the current situation. Lt. Col. John D. "Jeff" Cooper, USMC, a veteran of World War II and the Korean War, said the most important factor in combat survival was the mindset. He assigned colors to four levels of alertness:
- White (unaware, unprepared),
- Yellow (relaxed alert - "This could be the day"),
- Orange (specific alert, some indication), and
- Red (ready to fight).
The Marines added Black (in a fight). For church safety, or going down the street, we should be at Level Yellow.
These are close to the standard radio codes, but not the same. Don't confuse radio codes with Colors of Alertness. "Code Yellow" means a suspicious person is detected (Level Orange). "Code Orange" is a person who is disruptive of combative (Level Red if they're near us). "Code Red" is fire.
The Awareness Process
Years ago, Col. John Boyd thought about what makes a fighter pilot successful in air-to-air combat. He described a thought process cycle, the OODA Loop: Observe, Orient, Decide, Act. This has become an essential part of military training and is also being used by many kinds of businesses, government agencies, and institutions. It is an important skill to use in situational awareness to evaluate what we are aware of.
Practice hones skills, especially when we focus on making the good better and making the better even better. We need to use situational awareness not only when serving on the Church Safety Team, but everywhere. Make situational awareness a habit. Of course, we do need times of relaxation, Level White, but in a safe place.
On the Lookout
Some things we see, hear, or otherwise sense should catch our attention. What do we look for? This is not a complete list:
- Activity. Are they sneaking up to the building, hiding behind cars or bushes?
- Identity: Is the person someone on a watch list?
- Signs of a weapon. This is a bit tricky now, with some states (such as Ohio) going to Constitutional Carry - no permit needed for a concealed weapon. If a person is likely to be carrying, look for signs of their intentions, such as facial expressions and behavior.
- General appearance.
- Are they dressed as though concealing something? Does it look like they're dressed for a fight, such as with body armor?
- Sometimes we'll pick up clues to a medical condition becoming an emergency, such as a heart attack, stroke, diabetic shock, etc.
- Facial Expression. Does the person look angry or disturbed? How about a cold, emotionless look?
- Speech: Does how they speak or what they say seem hostile? Do they carry a grudge? Does their speech indicate a concerning kind of mental illness?
- Mannerisms and posture. Are they fidgety or nervous? Do they constantly shuffle their feet? Do they lean away from you, or do they invade your space?
- Violations of Social Norms. Perhaps a visitor is ignorant of what is normally expected in the setting of a church service. In some situations, though, the violation may be deliberate, such as when protesters in a service stand up suddenly, lifting up signs and yelling. More serious is when the violator has deadly intent, such as assaulting an individual or the group. It is prudent to take these violations seriously, with someone staying close enough to intervene if it turns into a deadly threat.
If you see something suspicious, do not jump to conclusions too fast. That bulge that looks like a gun in the pocket - what if it's a harmonica and a card holder? Engage the person in friendly conversation as you look and listen. And use the interview stance.
Also, look for safety and fire hazards, the conditions of windows and doors, and signs of attempted forced entry or the preparations for it.
"Be safe. Be aware." More than just a sign on a wall, it should be our normal state as Church Safety Team members - alert for medical emergencies, fire, active killers, and any other threats to the safety and well-being of those in the church.
Church Safety Teams are urged to get all members trained and certified through the Safety Team Member Certification program (a.k.a. Sheepdog Church Security Training Academy). The seven training modules are:
- Security Team Fundamentals v4
- Active Shooter Response v4
- Deescalating Disruptive Persons v4
- Protecting Children from Abuse v4
- Basic Use of Force Laws v4
- Arson and Fire Safety v4
- Severe Weather and Natural Disasters
Training is in three formats: Team Certification (classroom training), Individual Certification (online training), and Online Events (live Zoom classes). Team Certification and Individual Certification can begin at any time. The 2022 Spring Semester of Online Events is in session, and the 2022 Fall Semester will begin on October 9. It is available to both individuals and teams.
The Church Security Guide has nine articles. These can serve to both preview and review training modules. Two articles relate to topics of this month's weekly articles: "Preparing Your Church for Natural Disasters" and "Church Safety Teams and Active Shooter Training."
There Is More
The other three April articles are "2015 Emanuel AME Church Shooting" (Lesson Learned), "Man Down" (Knowing What to Do in a Medical Emergency), and "Weathering a Whirlwind" (Tornado Safety).
- Kris Moloney, Safety Member Certification, Sheepdog Church Security, © 2020 [https://sheepdog-church-security.thinkific.com/].
- Andrew Court, "Ohio bomb squad is called in to disable suspicious looking bag left outside a church - only to discover it is full of abandoned KITTENS," The Daily Mail, February 21, 2021 [https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-9283747/Ohio-bomb-squad-discovers-suspicious-bag-abandoned-KITTENS.html].
- Tim Moran, "'Suspicious Person' Report Made Near St. Mark's Preschool," Patch, November 17, 2017 [https://patch.com/illinois/burrridge/suspicious-person-report-made-near-st-marks-preschool].
- Anonymous, "A suspicious looking car has been parked in front of my house …" Quora, On or before April 23, 2019 [https://www.quora.com/A-suspicious-looking-car-has-been-parked-in-front-of-my-house-for-a-while-and-moved-to-my-neighbor-s-house-after-they-saw-me-getting-the-mail-Should-I-be-worried].
- Pastor Scott, "Suspicious Person Reported at Keene, NH Church," May 9, 2011 [https://jesseleeproject.com/2011/05/09/suspicious-person-reported-at-keene-nh-church/].
- Lyndon Abioye, "Gunman Attempts MASS SHOOTING In Nashville Church . . . 'God' Intervened!!" MTO News, November 13, 2021, updated November 14, 2021 [https://mtonews.com/gunman-attempts-mass-shooting-in-nashville-church-god-intervened-video].
- IE Staff, "Watch Church Usher Allegedly Pinch Money From Offering Plates as Congregation Prays," Inside Edition, November 9, 2015, updated November 10, 2015 [https://www.insideedition.com/12883-watch-church-usher-allegedly-pinch-money-from-offering-plates-as-congregation-prays].
- Leonardo Blair, "AME Church will no longer allow ‘one person to count the money' after nearly $100M goes missing," Christian Post, March 25, 2022 [https://www.christianpost.com/news/ame-church-sued-after-100m-goes-missing.html].
- Kris Moloney and Simon Osamoh, "CSRC Special Interview with Simon," Sheepdog Church Security Academy, November 11, 2021 [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O23FOQElDzE&list=PLiGluOUZx7RddCQLOshTS5mxCfeQLjFsc].
- "Charleston church shooting," Wikipedia [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charleston_church_shooting].
- "Jeff Cooper: Combat mindset and the Cooper color code" Wikipedia [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jeff_Cooper#Combat_mindset_and_the_Cooper_color_code].
- "OODA Loop," Wikipedia [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/OODA_loop].