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Are You Prepared?

How will your leaders and volunteers respond to an emergency? Many churches have not given enough thought to this important question.

Creating emergency action plans, documenting procedures, and training staff and volunteers on what to do––or not do––in a wide variety of circumstances and scenarios can keep people calm and save lives. An emergency action plan should cover these types of incidents:

* Medical Emergencies
* Power Outages
* Evacuation Plans
* Bomb Threats
* Fire Drills
* Lock Down Procedures
* Security Coordination Training

When New Life Church in Colorado Springs experienced deadly force at their church–a pastor’s worst nightmare–their security team was critical in saving lives. Two girls died in the parking lot, but the gunman’s open fire in the children’s hallway with an assault-type rifle triggered the response team into action, preventing further injury.

Emergencies require reaction, but a plan, by nature, is proactive. Proactive reactivity beats panic, hands down, every time.

After the shooting at New Life, Jeff Kowell, the director of security, took their “security team” to “life safety team” by adding medical teams, trained ushers, verbal de-escalation techniques and prioritized lists of which areas of the facility would be staffed first, according to volunteer availability.

In the event of an emergency, an Incident Command Team immediately engages to coordinate communication, with ready access to emergency response kits placed throughout the facility.

This level of planning requires the development of unique policies and procedures, systems and tools for every level of operation (from usher to children’s workers). The last thing churches want to do is make an emergency situation even worse by their lack of preparedness.

The preponderance of cell phones means that almost any emergency situation can be reported at almost any time. There’s one easy number for accessing the highest level of alert: 9-1-1. However, not all emergency situations require an immediate call to 9-1-1.

For internal communication, cell phones are not the best choice. They are only as good as the accuracy of the list of phone numbers and cell tower coverage, and can only facilitate communication between two people at a time.

Simple two-way radios, such as those found at Radio Shack, are the most effective way to share information and coordinate people during emergencies. They are affordable even for churches with a limited budget.

Communications may be the most important area for a plan, because all other plans involve communication. Even on a good day, communications are easily complicated by misunderstandings. Add a little panic and mayhem to the mix, and things can fall apart quickly.

Emergency response teams should have a clear command structure, knowing who will be responsible for communicating with teams throughout the facility. In large churches, it is important to have specific “zones” identified so that each team knows the specific evacuation plans or, in certain situations, lock-down protocols to keep people safe.

Prior to any event or service, the security teams, medical teams and lead ushers meet to distribute radios and ensure every person has reported in for their volunteer assignment. Once assembled, the teams do a check of all radios and go over the areas of responsibility for each team member.If the building does not have an emergency communication system for public announcements, providing bullhorns to key security team leaders is also recommended.

“Security and safety must happen in all churches, not just large mega-churches,” warns Chuck Chadwick, president of Gatekeepers Security Services and founder of the National Organization of Church Security and Safety Management. Churches need to educate their staff, train volunteers and determine how they can be diligent in the protection of their congregants.

Kim Norris of Love & Norris says that statistics reveal that all churches are at risk when it comes to protecting children. “Studies show 1 out of 3 female children and 1 out of 6 male children will be sexually assaulted before 18 years of age. There is no socio-economic, social or spiritual differential for these statistics. In other words, it’s not ‘from those other churches,” concludes Norris. The churches that are finally “getting it” are, unfortunately, those who have had been sued.

Every church needs to take steps towards making their facilities and people more secure. From simple initiatives like adding “ERT Kits” to implementing comprehensive background checks, churches of every size have the resources to fully protect their people. Providing a safe environment for adults and children is absolutely imperative.

This information is courtesy of ACTIVE Network, which produces Fellowship One software for churches, www.activenetwork.com.

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Religious Product News