In the 1960s, some humorist posted this sign: “Be alert. We need more lerts.” While most of laughed at the feigned misunderstanding of the word “alert,” it did make us more alert to the “Be alert” signs. Seriously now, being alert is serious business. It can keep us out of trouble, or prepare us to meet trouble.
In the News
Sun Prairie, WI (April 8, 2017) - A man entering a church during the week and asking strange questions aroused suspicion. The man resembled the descriptions of a person wanted for threatening churches and religion in general. As a precaution, the church cancelled services for the following Sunday.
The leadership of the church was aware of the warning about the suspect who made the threats. When a person resembling the person of interest showed up asking about service times and “about turning people away,” the church leadership became suspicious and contacted the authorities. Then they took the precaution of cancelling services to protect the flock.
In a Scenario
(This is a composite fictional account based on actual incidents in schools and churches)
Linda Brownstein had been a teacher for many years. She earned the nicknames "Watchdog" and "Detective" for her keen observational skills. Her students said she had eyes in the back of her head.
Now Linda was on the Safety Team at her church. As she checked the rooms before locking the church building after Sunday services, she sensed movement in a corner of the corridor and braced for an encounter. The next second, a man lunged at her and grabbed her from behind. In a whirlwind, she reversed the hold and had him kneeling on the floor in a bar arm lock. As she held him there she called 9-1-1.
Linda was not only watchful and alert, she was trained in self defense and how to turn the tables on attackers.
Alertness and Awareness in the Bible
The Bible has many mentions of being alert, watchful, and aware. Watch for enemies. Be alert for error. Be aware of your own condition. Look at what you are doing. Know where you are. A few or the references are 1 Peter 5:8; Ephesians 6:18; 1 Peter 1:13; 1 Thessalonians 5:2-9; Matthew 26:41 and Mark 14:38; Matthew 24:42, 44 and Luke 21:36.
The Key Is Awareness
Awareness of our surroundings with alertness for anything indicating a potential threat is a key to personal safety and security. In literature, presentations, and online websites, it is part of the advice for occupational safety, campus security, business owners, overseas travel, and street safety, whether you are unarmed or carrying a weapon.
If we are aware of potential threats, we can avoid unnecessary confrontations. This is especially true if we show confidence and readiness – this may deter a potential assailant. Also, when we sense that a person is troubled, firm calmness on our part may calm a potentially disruptive person long enough for us to use verbal de-escalation to defuse a dangerous situation.
On the other hand, if we see a threat, and it is a hostile person, we will know how to meet the threat – that is, if we know the tactics and have the skills of unarmed self-defense.
The Habit of Awareness
Being aware of our surroundings and what is going on is a key to safety and effectiveness in most areas of life. In regard to university students, Bridgett Sass wrote in the Rozenberg Quarterly,
Defensive driving is used as an example for situational awareness at work (Lisle A. Stalter, writing “Becoming more aware: A few tips on keeping you and your family safe” in the newsletter of the Illinois State Bar Association, refers to defensive driving). It makes us safer drivers. Defensive drivers know where they are. They know what the road is like and see the intersections and driveways. They know where other vehicles are and how they are being driven. They are aware of their options in case a car changes lanes, a truck rolls into an intersection, etc.
In its article on awareness in occupational safety, Select International names several factors which can interfere with a worker’s situational awareness:
Being distracted by loud noises or coworkers,
Taking one’s eyes off the road while driving,
Rushing to complete a task,
Working while fatigued or extremely tired,
Working at a new job site
They go on to say, “The outcome of employees’ high-risk behaviors associated with low awareness of surroundings can be disastrous.” It is vital to not let distractions blunt our situational awareness, not only in the shop, but at church.
A church campus may not have the same hazards as an industrial plant, but it can have hostile persons who become combative and must be dealt with effectively to protect the flock. Being aware of them may provide the opportunity to back them down from combativeness, but in case they remain combative, we will be ready to defend ourselves.
In “Do Guns = Security?” – a blog article addressing the issue of intruders into schools [and churches] – Mark Warren, Vice President of Strategos International says, “There is not a focus on the weapon being used, but instead, focuses [sic] on the potential outcome so that you immediately recognize the threat, assess the threat correctly, and respond accordingly.” In other words, both the organization itself and its members must take potential outcomes into consideration in recognizing threats and how to respond to them.
For Church Safety Team members, this means being aware of potential threats, knowing how to recognize them, being watchful of their surroundings and alert to any sign of a person or situation posing a threat, then knowing how and being ready to meet those threats. This includes an attack by an individual, armed or unarmed.
How to Be Aware
The many sources for safety and security awareness have pointers relating to the situations of their target audiences. So how do we apply situational awareness to the church (with a readiness to defend ourselves)?
Be familiar with the church and its campus, both inside and outside. Know where people usually walk and stand. Know where entrances are, and which windows can be opened. Know every room in each building. Know where a person can hide, so you can scan those places when in the area. Be aware of objects an assailant can grab and use as a weapon.
When moving through or standing in an area, move your eyes around, making a mental note of anything that seems different or out-of-place.
Extend your view
Watch shadows and reflections. They might reveal someone or something you cannot see directly. For example, the reflection in a window or on a shiny wall could disclose someone behind you. A shadow moving could betray a person trying to hide.
“What if . . .?”
Be ready to think about what anything you see might mean, especially if a little bit different. For example, “What if someone is crouched in that dark corner?” Or, “What if that sound is footsteps?”
Have the bearing of strength, confidence, and knowing what you are doing. Appearing to be weak, fearful, or confused only invites an attack – unless you’re a decoy. An appearance of strength makes the attacker less sure, less likely to attack, or more likely to have less than full confidence if attacking. The last part gives you an advantage if attacked.
Know What to Do if AttackedFollowing articles will discuss what to do in a hostile encounter. The Continuum of Force includes unarmed tactics, especially appropriate when facing an unarmed opponent. If we are trained in defending ourselves without weapons, situational awareness will keep us ready for when the time comes.
Open Bible - https://www.openbible.info/topics/alert
Business Know-How - http://www.businessknowhow.com/security/followhome.htm
Functional Self Defense, “Avoidance, Awareness, & Prevention” - http://www.functionalselfdefense.org/awareness-prevention
Illinois State Bar Association -https://www.isba.org/committees/governmentlawyers/newsletter/2013/06/becomingmoreawareafewtipsonkeepingy
Select International - http://www.selectinternational.com/safety-blog/aware-of-surroundings-can-reduce-safety-incidents
Sheepdog Church Security
Church Security Guide
“Church Safety Team Academy”
“Use of Force and Citizen's Arrest Laws”
Church Security Articles
“Use of Force : Using the Right Level of Force”
“Calming the Storm: Using Verbal De-escalation to Preclude Use of Force”
“Decisions! Decisions! - Situational Training for Church Security”
Church Security Podcasts – Sheepdog Church Security has The Church Rollcall, podcasts hosed by radio veteran Ron Neeley in which the topics of Church Security Articles are discussed with SDCS founder Kris Maloney:
“Decisions! Decisions! - Situational Training”
“A Reasonable Defense - Legal Use of Force”
Monthly Newsletter – The Church Guardian
Training Bundles - Sheepdog Church Security has downloadable training bundles:
“Church Safety / Security Volunteer Team Academy v2”
“Protecting Yourself and the Church with Use of Force Laws v2”