Church Security Guide

Either as an act of vandalism or an accidental occurrence, fire and arson can pose a serious threat to church property and people. Prevent property damage – or worse – by teaching your church how to reduce fire risks and preparing them for emergency procedures.

Fire Alarm Systmen for Fire Safety and Evacutations

In this Chapter, you and your team will learn:

  • fire science;
  • safety inspections;
  • use of fire extinguishers;
  • fire response;
  • evacuations and drills; and,
  • one and two person carries.
Emergency evacuation plans are an important part of church safety.

Fire Safety and Evacuations

Evacuation Types

Christensen, Blair, and Holt (2007) explained there are four types of evacuation procedures:

  • Protective – relocating people prior to a danger before an impending event such as a hurricane
  • Preventative – relocating people quickly and in less distance due to a danger such as a bomb threat
  • Rescue – removing people from an environment following an emergency such as a fire
  • Reconstructive – moving people from one environment to another for continued care such as “moving evacuees to camps or temporary housing programs” (pp. 249-250).

All evacuation types require detailed planning and practice. Hold practice drills for each type of evacuation. Everyone needs to understand whether to seek shelter or to leave the building immediately. Please see the violent intruder article on how to evacuate the building due to a violent intruder. Please see the team academy article on how to evacuate the building due to a bomb threat. Please continue reading for emergency evacuations due to fire.

Christensen, Blair, and Holt (2007) listed three overlying factors in all evacuations. They are provided below verbatim from the source:

  1. the behavior(s) of the individual;
  2. the planned systems active in the event; and,
  3. the environment in which the event occurs (Christensen, Blair, and Holt, 2007, p. 250).

These factors should be considered when planning evacuation procedures. People can be expected to behave similarly to how others behaved in similar crises. People’s thinking is impaired when they are in emergency situations (Prati et al., 2013, p. 770). Prati et al. (2013) found that people do not consistently correctly identify gestures made by first responders. Specifically, gestures indicating “Move back” or “Stop” were not understood (Prati et al., 2013, p. 768). Therefore, it would be helpful to familiarize church attendees with common first responder gestures during practice evaluations.

Creating Evacuation Procedures

There are general steps that church safety team leaders should perform when planning evacuation procedures.

1. Plan
Know who is responsible for what functions during the evacuation. After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) evaluated the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’s oversight of nursing homes (Brown, Hyer, and Polivka-West, 2007, p. 656). Brown, Hyer, and Polivka-West (2007) analyzed OIG’s report and its 25 elements of disaster planning. One of the most important provisions OIG found was the importance of direction and control because so many facilities did not have clear guidelines about who handled what aspects of the emergency (Brown, Hyer, & Polivka-West, 2007, p. 668).


American Crime Prevention Institute (ACPI, 2012) explained that “crime is the result of the desire or wish to commit the crime, the ability or knowledge how to commit the crime and the opportunity to commit the crime” (p. 7). Churches are as likely to be criminally victimized as other locations but may be more vulnerable due to ministering to high-risk populations, misperceptions that criminals will not attack a sacred space, and being high-profile sites for hate crimes (ACPI, 2012, pp. 513-514).

If possible, have a building inspection done during the planning process. Since 2009, building codes have made provisions for fire safe elevators that function during fires (Bukowski, 2012, p. 128). Know if the elevator(s) in the church are safe for evacuations. See the Elevators section below for more information on this issue.

Throughout the church, post maps that easily identify all exits and areas to avoid (e.g. rooms containing hazardous materials or high-voltage electrical systems) (Christensen, Blair, and Holt, 2007, p. 251; Wilson, 2015, p. 25).

When planning the evacuations, understand that people do not behave rationally during crises. Kugliowski (2013) explained that people often do not immediately leave when there is a crisis. Instead, they go through a decision-making process that includes denial and behaviors to find more information such as “milling” when people gather to discuss what has happened and what should be done and “keynoting” when leaders emerge to propose actions (Kugliowski, 2013, p. 105, 108). Even though people should understand that emergency evacuations require quick reactions, people often will delay evacuation. Kugliowski (2013) found that,

“over two-thirds of the injured and over half of the dead in building fires could have evacuated but instead were performing activities that delayed their safety, including fighting the fire, attempting to rescue others, and moving to [unsafe locations] inside the building. (pp. 101-102)”

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