Emerging Issues in Security

Texas Church Massacre Raises Church Security Concerns Again

A mass shooting on November 5, 2017, at a Sutherland Springs, Texas, church left 26 dead and 20 wounded, at the hands of an armed and angry former Air Force member. The shooter, who killed himself near the scene, was given a bad-conduct discharge in 2014, after 2 years of service and after serving 2 years in a military prison for severely injuring his child.

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This latest mass-attack incident creates security fears for church pastors, employees, volunteers, parents, and attendees, especially when they recall the murders of nine churchgoers by a shooter in June 2015 in Charleston, South Carolina. A children’s director at a church in the Northwest shares her concerns: “On a Sunday morning we may have up to 300 adults and children in our children’s area. I’m struggling to come up with a plan to give to our volunteers (some are here every week, some once a year) that can be communicated clearly and effectively regarding what to do in case of an active shooter. The subject of ‘lock down’ has come up. My friends working as teachers in the public schools have told me about ‘Run, Hide, Fight.’ Is that what I should communicate to volunteers who care for infants as well as volunteers working with 5th graders?

“The doors to our classrooms only lock with a key from the outside, so we have hung a key on the wall behind the door. I can only imagine how difficult it will be in a state of panic to step into the hall to lock the door, test it to make sure it is locked, and then re-enter and close the door. With that being said, should we keep doors locked at all times and just put up with the hassle of the steady flow of late arrivers and kids who take a restroom break? (We often close doors because we have a very loud, active building.)”

A Colorado-based security expert responds: “We should teach Run-Hide-Fight to all the adults at the church and Run-Hide to the kids. We don’t ever want or expect kids to have to defend themselves, but the adults should, at any facility with children, and they should see it as their third and last resort, if running out of the building to a safer place or sheltering in place in a locked room they can barricade is not possible. These are fluid and stressful situations, so the order of response is not the issue; taking action to move far away from the dangerous person is always first and foremost.

“I agree with you that having the adults step into the hallway to lock the doors is not ideal. In a perfect world, you would replace the door hardware so they can lock it from both sides. I know it’s a hassle to keep the closed doors locked, but I’m a big believer in access control and choke points. The more we can deny, deter, discourage, or delay bad people from getting in, the more time we have to activate our plan and wait in a safe location for the arrival of the police. I show the Department of Homeland Security, City of Houston, Texas ‘Run-Hide-Fight’ video to all my training audiences. Please know that there is much more to staying alive in a shooter scenario than just locking the doors. You can learn these lockdown survival techniques with the proper Run, Hide, Fight instruction.”