By Dave Milam
There’s a haunting question that often enters my mind when I walk into a church for an onsite facility evaluation. It’s a question I hate asking, but one every church leader should consider.
What would happen if an active shooter slipped into the facility during a weekend service? Does the current building design thwart danger or leave members vulnerable to attack?
With the steady rhythm of church shootings plaguing our headlines, it is becoming more evident that the church must be proactive to avert the horrific possibility and terror of an active shooter. In fact, active shooter readiness is beginning to shape how Visioneering’s architectural team thinks about building design and renovation.
These days, it’s imperative that church leaders conduct a ruthless self-evaluation of the church’s design and plan.
Here are 10 key questions to help assess your church’s readiness. As you answer each question, give your church a score: 0 for not prepared to 10 for fully prepared to evaluate your overall readiness. Then add up your scores to get your letter grade.
1. Is there a standardized campus-wide warning system?
In other words, in the event of an active shooter, is there a documented strategic process that puts the building on lockdown mode and warns staff, volunteers, or members of an active shooter?
There are multiple ways to do this; the key is having a system in place and that your team knows what it is and what to do. You can also upgrade your fire alarm system to include a voice evacuation system for mass notification throughout the building.
2. Do key environments have single points of access?
In the event of an active shooter, each ministry needs the ability to quickly lock down and secure their environment until help arrives. This is most easily and promptly accomplished when there is only one main entry point to each environment.
For example, your children’s ministry environments should be able to barricade a single point of entry to secure and protect children and workers. A children’s ministry where classrooms are littered down a long corridor with multiple points of entry may not be able to quickly and securely lock down the entire environment.
3. Is your first impressions/greeter team trained to look and respond to potential threats?
Each volunteer on your first impressions and/or greeter teams, from the barista to those handing out programs, should be on the lookout and know how to respond to potential threats to the church body.
Every weekend volunteer should know what to look for and how to report suspicious behavior. For example, the parking team, as the front line of defense, needs the ability to alert the security team if something feels a little out-of-whack. And the door greeters need to know how to respond if they notice a guest wearing tactical gear.
The more eyes you have scanning attendees entering the building, the more likely you’ll be able to divert a threat. A good rule of thumb: Always have at least a couple of trained greeters at every entry or key access point.
You might even think about adding security cameras throughout the building for extra surveillance.
4. Is your entry sequence multi-layered?
Churches without lobbies or with small or straightforward entry sequences create high levels of vulnerability.
Though you want your environments to be welcoming, require attendees to travel through several environments before reaching the auditorium or kids’ space. Multi-layered entry will help deter potential threats. That’s why in order to get to a bank’s vault, a potential thief has to penetrate several layers of security to hit the jackpot.
5. Are there adequate places to hide?
Most active shooter training includes a “run-hide-fight” strategy. It’s critical that attendees have places to hide.
Because many lobbies and auditoriums are designed to maximize open space, there are often not many places to hide. Evaluate your public areas to determine if there are adequate hiding spaces. This can include half walls, counters, furniture, and closets. You might even think about adding ballistic or blast film to windows.
If hiding becomes the safest strategy for survival, leaders should know to lock doors, turn off lights, and cover all windows. Additionally, your leaders should have the resources to black out viewing into the room quickly.
6. Are there multiple escape routes?
Most building codes require a minimum ways to exit. And in the event of a slow-moving fire in the building, that minimum number may be adequate.
In an active shooter scenario, when seconds matter, it’s wise to have additional exits to handle panicked victims as they escape. Does your building have adequate doors for immediate evacuation?
7. Are all emergency exit doors alarmed?
With the enhancement of new exit doors, there’s the possibility that a door might get propped open. A cracked door would allow for troublemakers to enter unnoticed. Exit-only doors should be alarmed and have panic hardware only on the inside of the door.
8. Does your building have pedestrian protection?
Have you seen those red concrete spheres outside of each Target store? You may think they were the attempt of some New York designer to add a splash of color to the sidewalk.
Those bollards are strategically placed to protect pedestrians and prevent large trucks from crashing into the lobby. Church lobbies and walkways are often exposed without the protection of bollards, large planters or red concrete balls.
9. Does your church have gunfire detection sensors?
Much like a fire alarm, churches are installing gunfire detection sensors. These high-tech sensors immediately alert local authorities when a gun is fired in or around your building.
The sensors are so sophisticated that they can differentiate between loud noises and gunfire. Many even report the type of gun that was fired. When seconds matter, gunfire sensors could be the difference between life and death.
10. Does your team regularly pray for protection from potential threats?
Has the safety and security of your church members become an ongoing matter of prayer for your staff and leaders?
Visioneering Studios grew out of the desire for the church to regain a leadership position in culture. Since its inception in 2002, Visioneering has grown into a national faith-based design-build firm offering its suite of services to churches, nonprofits, and commercial businesses alike.