Hardening the Church against Active Killers
In the Bible
And Uzziah prepared for all the army shields, spears, helmets, coats of mail, bows, and stones for slinging (2 Chronicles 26:14).
[Hezekiah] set to work resolutely and built up all the wall that was broken down and raised towers upon it, and outside it he built another wall, and he strengthened the Millo in the city of David. He also made weapons and shields in abundance (2 Chronicles 32:5).
… my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold and my refuge, my savior; you save me from violence (2 Samuel 22:3).
So we built the wall. And all the wall was joined together to half its height, for the people had a mind to work ... So the wall was finished on the twenty-fifth day of the month Elul, in fifty-two days. (Nehemiah 4:6; 6:15).
“Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves" (Matthew 10:16).
In the News
In response to an increase of mass-casualty deadly-force incidents, many agencies and organizations have developed and published means of responding to active killers. Several advise businesses, schools, and places of worship on how to harden their facilities. Some conduct training sessions. Some report on them.
AlertFind - This security consultant advises businesses on how to harden their office buildings. Some of their measures can be applied to churches. These include layout, training, access control, inside shelters, and exits.
ASIS International - The ASIS School Safety & Security Council advises schools on hardening against active shooters. They have an emphasis on active hardening with situational awareness.
Police Magazine - An article in this law enforcement resource publication outlines ways that soft targets, such as places of worship, can harden their facilities against active killers. The author favors armed security teams in churches, synagogues, and mosques, believing this would be a deterrent if known.
Reflex Red Storm - This security training firm conducts seminars for government agencies, schools, and other organizations. Their outline includes preparations for active killer events. Among these are threat assessment, training, response plans, site hardening, and situational awareness.
PJ Media - Following the December 2019 shooting at a church in White Settlement, Texas, PJ Media reposted a 2018 article on hardening places of worship. The author lists four points:
- Form a security team.
- Harden the building.
- Monitor the perimeter.
- Train your leadership in active shooter response.
Walls and Shields
Walls have been used for thousands of years for protection: to protect from the weather, from wild animals, from thieves and robbers, from invaders. Walls used to surround entire cities, and remnants of these can still be seen. Today, walls enclose yards in Phoenix, gated communities, and institutional and government compounds, all for the purpose of protection.
Shields are like portable walls which can be carried on one's arm for protection in battle. Recent photos and videos show riot police holding large shields for protection from projectiles.
For church security, the church's outer walls and perimeter fences serve the same purpose. In many cases they are enhanced by modern technologies, such as sensors, cameras, and remotely controlled locks. Shields are the human factors in preventive protection. These are the ways we prepare to prevent or blunt an active killer attack.
Recognizing the Risk
Intelligence is critical to national defense. It can also help a church to deal with impending threats. We do not have the resources of the CIA, but we can conduct threat assessments. These can be regular evaluations of what we know. There are persons in the church, their relatives, co-workers, or acquaintances, or people in the community who should be persons of interest in threat assessments.
Some church members may be uncomfortable with the idea of threat assessment, especially those who think that love means being accepting of everyone and not suspicious of anyone. However, the Bible tells us to be watchful. It tells us, "Know the condition of your flocks" (Proverbs 27:23). Jesus said to "be wise as serpents and innocent as doves." It is wise to consider a potential threat, no matter who it may be.
A threat assessment can be ad hoc, a response to information received. One time and place where threat assessment could perhaps have saved lives was Sutherland Springs in October or November 2017. A woman in the church received a threat from her son-in-law. I do not know whether she told the pastor or elders of the church about the threat, but they should have been informed of it. They knew her son-in-law, and he made them uneasy. Later in November he showed up fully armed and killed 26 people, including the woman's mother. If a threat is reported, it should be taken seriously and checked out. Do not hesitate to report a threat to the police.
Steps to Hardening Your Church
Don't be a soft target, a temptation for would-be attackers. Become a hard target. Protect your church by site hardening, procedural hardening, and personnel hardening.
Resistance to an attack should begin with a facilities assessment. Can all doors and windows resist forced entry? Can they be closed and locked very quickly? Are there alarms on windows to alert you of an attempted forced entry? Is there surveillance of all entrances?
- Be sure all doors and windows are secure.
- Make the main door a double entry. Besides putting another door in the way of an attacker, it can save energy on days of extreme heat or cold.
- Install a remote "lock all" system. One push of the button is all you need.
- Install surveillance at all entry points. This can include alarms on vents large enough for a very small person to squeeze through. Have cameras include the campus perimeter and the parking lot.
- Make glass doors and windows shatter-resistant. It will take more than a few bullets, a swing of a baseball bat, or a thrown brick to make a hole big enough for an attacker to come in.
- Put a concrete planter, massive pillar, large bell, or other large and heavy object in the way of a vehicle plowing into the front door.
Establish procedures which limit access for attackers. These include:
- All doors except the main entry are exit only.
- The front doors are locked after a service begins.
- Station a Safety Team member or a trained greeter at a door when it is unlocked.
- Watchfully observe all who come in. Be aware of where people are inside.
- Watch for persons hiding outside or inside. They can be in the shrubbery, behind fences, between vehicles, in corners, in closets, etc.
- Report anything suspicious to another Safety Team member or the Team Leader.
Train Safety Team members, greeters, ushers, teachers, group leaders, church staff, and church leadership in how to respond to an armed attack. This includes evacuations, lockdowns, seeking cover, and engaging the attacker.
Train the Safety Team, greeters, and ushers in situational awareness for detecting an active killer. The best way is to spot the killer outside, but can you spot a threat already inside? The man who pulled out a shotgun in the White Settlement church aroused the attention of the Security Team when he came in. They kept an eye on him.
Train members of the congregation in how to swarm an attacker when there's no escape. A few who know how can lead many in a counter attack.
If it's acceptable to church leadership and the congregation, have some armed members on the Safety Team. In the Police Magazine article, Doug Wyllie said that when those planning an attack know you have armed guards (Safety Team members), they will see you as a hard target, not a soft one. See to it that they are trained in how to shoot during an active killer incident. In White Settlement, Texas, the team member who ended the active shooter incident in six seconds knew how to shoot accurately in a crowd.
The best response to an active killer incident is a proactive response. Use threat assessments to evaluate threats to the church. Harden the church's facilities. Establish procedures to guard against an attack by making it harder for a killer to get in. Harden your personnel through training. If you can, have armed persons on your Safety Team.
There Is More
Other articles in this series are "Encounter" (Responding to an Active Killer) and "The Aftermath" (Following the Shooting).
- Kris Moloney, "Active Shooter Response v4," Sheepdog Church Security Courses: Training Materials for Classes [https://sheepdog-church-security.thinkific.com/courses/active-shooter-neutralization-and-lock-down-drills-training-bundle]; Individual Online Training [https://sheepdog-church-security.thinkific.com/courses/active-shooter-neutralization-and-lock-down-drills].
- Staff, "Is Your Office A Soft Target? Harden Your Building With These Expert Tips," AlertFind, no date [https://alertfind.com/office-soft-target-harden-building-expert-tips/].
- Robin Hattersley, Executive Editor for Campus Safety, "Active Shooter White Paper," ASIS International, Copyright © 2016 [https://www.asisonline.org/globalassets/publications-and-resources/security-topics/soft-target--active-shooter/active_shooter_wp_sssc.pdf].
- Doug Wyllie, "2 Ways to Harden Soft Targets Like Churches, Synagogues, and Mosques," Police Magazine, January 10, 2020 [https://www.policemag.com/537655/2-ways-to-harden-soft-targets-like-churches-synagogues-and-mosques].
- Alain Burrese, "Active Defense Training," no date [Accessed at https://www.sccgov.org/sites/osec/SafetySeminars/Documents/session-5-17-survive-shooting-Alain-Burrese-19.pdf].
- Jeff Sanders, "Four Things You Can Do Right Now to Harden Your Place of Worship Against a Shooter," PJ Media, October 28, 2018 [https://pjmedia.com/culture/jeff-sanders/2018/10/28/four-things-you-can-do-right-now-to-harden-your-church-against-a-shooter-n173242].
- Jake Bleiberg and Jamie Stengle, "Firearms instructor took out gunman at Texas church service," Associated Press, December 30, 2019 [https://apnews.com/de8a2aebc6d95b9131a08975a5d881f9].