By Kelly Clemens
It’s a bustling Sunday morning as the church wakes up for another busy day. The coffee is brewing, the prayer group is meeting, and a rambunctious toddler runs down a hallway.
Another group is also meeting and preparing for the day: the church security team. They get wired up with their earbuds, check the day’s events, and prepare to keep the faithful safe as they enter their house of worship.
One volunteer, Scott Hoffman, checks his radio settings and gets in position at the back of the house. He is alert as people filter in, checking for anything out the ordinary and listening to the radio chatter.
“I take this job very seriously,” he says. Though only a volunteer, Hoffman was asked to join the team due to his background in access control, key management, and facility maintenance.
Others on the team have similar credentials, and, together, the team works to keep the service moving forward, with most parishioners unaware of their presence.
Hoffman says, “Part of our charm is that most people don’t know that we are here, but, unfortunately, we are a necessity.”
The Sunday tasks are a large portion of the group’s services, but there is also another aspect of security that nonprofit and religious organizations are now facing.
“Most churches have proximity readers on exterior doors, but they often overlook that they don’t have full accountability of who has been issued those keys and fobs,” he says.
Part of Hoffman’s day-to-day job is to help large facilities with their key management.
He says, “I always like to start with a key audit. Have everyone return their keys and get an accurate count of who has keys and how many sets we have out there. Sometimes it is hard to admit that we don’t know how many keys have been issued or are missing or lost.”
This can be difficult with large churches that have multiple uses, such as churches that have schools or allow community access to facilities, like gymnasiums.
Many churches, due to tight staff resources, will issue keys to volunteers so that they may enter the facility without staff present.
“I have found that someone may be issued a fob with a grand master key for a series of Christmas rehearsals, and then not return that key set for several months,” Hoffman notes.
Paper logs or spreadsheets are a tool to track the issuance of keys/fobs, but this can be tedious to track and, most importantly, to audit and maintain.
“After we have an accurate count of keys that have been issued, it’s important to minimize the number of grand masters and master keys, as much as possible,” he says. “Key sets that can be issued by duty, instead of by person, can help eliminate the number of highly sensitive keys the church issues.”
Hoffman continues, “After you have an accurate count of keys or fobs, and you have identified who needs access to specific areas, you can reissue the key sets and require a regular audit of those keys. Some people may only need to check their key sets in and out once a year, such as a staff member. However, some may be issued a set for a shorter period and be required to return them.”
Larger facilities that have more robust access control systems can regulate this, but smaller churches may need to look at other options to issue keys and fobs that have a check-in and check-out feature.
“Near Field Communication (NFC) technology has really advanced in the past few years, and now with cell phones that can read NFC, it opens the door for less expensive options. I never thought I would be paying for a coffee with a tap of my phone, but thanks to NFC, I am fully caffeinated.” Hoffman says.
“Keys and fobs can now be tagged with NFC, and this allows a staff member to check keys in and out to daily volunteers, contractors, and community representatives, creating an audit trail,” he continues. “Key management software can track the issuance of keys and also send reminders to notify someone if they forgot to return the key.”
Hoffman encourages the facilities he works with to not only have an audit trail for key issuance, but also business practices to back up facility policies.
He says, “When you sit down with your security team to make evacuation plans and set up drills, also discuss business practices that can enforce your policies. If paper logs and spreadsheets are not holding people accountable for missing keys or unreturned fobs, then that is something that needs to be addressed.”
Tracking down all your facilities keys and then inventorying them can be a daunting task, especially with volunteer staff that are already fatigued.
“I always tell people that you have to start somewhere and doing nothing is the worst thing that you can do,” Hoffman shares. “Sit down with your team, look at the many uses of your facility and then structure policies that fit your needs. There are many cost-effective options out there to help you secure your facility. Cloud-based solutions are nice because you can access them from a phone or desktop, and that makes it easy for both staff and volunteers.”
He adds, “Also, there is usually a wealth of knowledge within your community to help you get started. Contact your local police and connect with knowledgeable people within your church body. You’d be amazed at who comes out of the woodwork.”
Security threats within our religious organizations have become a reality. Reducing the stress on your staff and volunteers by creating key management policies that support them in daily tasks is a step in the right direction for a healthy work and worship environment.
Hoffman’s last piece of advice? “Keep the coffee hot and the faithful safe.”
Kelly Clemens has her masters in Nonprofit Arts Administration and is currently working as the business manager at Assettrack, which uses Radio-frequency identification (RFID) and Near Field Communication (NFC) technology to track assets, www.hoffman-co.com.