Creating Security Plans for Churches and Houses of Worship
Churches, synagogues, temples, mosques, and other houses of worship should be sanctuaries for the people who gather there to pray. However, they are not immune to crime. Churches can be vulnerable to everything from break-ins and petty theft to acts of domestic violence. And in recent years, houses of worship have become soft targets for active shooters and mass shooters. Houses of worship welcome all people with open arms, but that open-door policy also makes it very easy for someone to enter who means to do harm in some fashion. That’s why it’s so important to create a church safety plan to help keep your building secure and your parishioners safe.
Common Church Security Concerns
When we think about church security, we tend to think of mass shootings, bombings, or arson. While a security plan should account for these types of catastrophic incidents, there are some security concerns that are far more common in houses of worship. These include:
- Mental health
- Domestic/martial issues
- Child custody issues
Unfortunately, when families are involved in highly contentious separations or one member of a family has a protective order against another, churches and houses of worship become easy targets since the potential perpetrator knows where their target will be, at what time, and also knows the procedures of the church.
Mental health-related incidents are common and tend to include things like harassment, threats of violence, or self-harm. It’s important to think about these types of potential incidents any time you are developing a church security plan.
The Unique Security Challenges of Churches and Houses of Worship
Houses of worship and churches have unique security challenges that places like schools and businesses do not have. Some of those challenges include:
- The open-door policy that houses of worship have to welcome parishioners and visitors.
- The fact that an open-door policy means it is common to see strangers in the building during worship and meeting times.
- Typically the only gatekeepers are greeters, ushers, and laypeople who are volunteers and welcome people into the building with open arms.
- Large groups gather together in small places inside houses of worship, making them tempting targets.
- Many churches and houses of worship consider their building to be a place of peace and are reluctant to take measures to shore up security on the premises.
- Children are often separated from parents for lessons, and teachers of those lessons may not know who the child’s parents are.
- All religions have people who hate them, and houses of worship are the natural target for people who mean to do harm.
- There is often a great deal of cash laying around due to offerings by congregants.
Whenever groups gather together, no matter the location, it’s important to have a security plan in place. A church security plan or safety plan for a house of worship should be developed to help keep parishioners safe and secure.
Invest In Church Security Technology
While you work on a security plan for your church or house of worship, you should immediately invest in security technology, if you haven’t already. Basic safety and security includes:
- Security cameras at all entrances
- Security alarms that alert local fire and police
- Two-way radios for all gatekeepers and supervisors of children during services and other gatherings
- Strategically placed first-aid kits
- An automated external defibrillator
- Digital offering options (reduces the amount of cash in offering plates)
All of these items will play a role in a final safety and security plan for your church or house of worship, but until that formal plan is in place, they add extra layers of security that could deter potential intruders.
Protect Your Congregation’s Children
One of the first things any house of worship should do when thinking about safety and security plans is enact plans to protect children. These can be refined as the broader, formal plan is put in place, but the safety and protection of children should be your number one priority. Even before your formal plan is in place, consider putting these procedures into action:
- Run background checks on anyone who comes in regular contact with children
- Train all teachers and caregivers on fire evacuation routes
- Install blinds on doors with windows to limit visibility among outsiders
- Create a sign-in process for all children
- Require that the person who dropped the child off be the person who picks them up, unless expressly notified at the time of drop-off
Considerations for Developing A Church Security Plan
Here are some of the most important aspects of church security that will affect policies and procedures:
- Understand the legalities of things like locking entrances (potential fire hazard) and armed guards or volunteers.
- The security plan should be comprehensive and should include policies for fires, accidents, domestic situations, physical altercations, break-ins, theft, and robbery in addition to mass shootings and bombings.
- Work with local first responders and law enforcement. Working with local authorities can help you create procedures that allow them to respond as quickly as possible to a safety or security issue.
- Create a security committee at your house of worship. This dedicated team will be the ones who approve all safety and security measures, communicate policies and procedures to parishioners, and take charge in the event of a serious incident.
- Separate your wifi, so that church systems are on a protected network and parishioners can access a separate “guest” wifi.
- Understand that safety and security plans will need to be revisited and updated regularly.
The more comprehensive your church security plan, the better. It is often wise to work with a security company that has experience in church safety. This will ensure that your plan and resulting procedures are as robust as possible. Whether you work with a security company or not, the security plan for your church or house of worship, you’ll need your attention to be focused equally on:
- Interior security
- Exterior security
- Plans and procedures
Let’s examine each one a little more closely :
Interior House of Worship Security
When it comes to interior security, access control will be extremely important. This means limiting entry into the church to one or two doors, tops. Ensure that all other doors can be locked from the inside but also opened from the inside to ensure fire safety. When small groups gather for something like a small bible study or work session, lock all entrances once everyone is present.
Interior security also incorporates your indoor security cameras, alarm system, checkpoints throughout the building when large groups are gathering, child safety procedures, and even key-code entry systems for certain areas of the house of worship.
Additionally, you will want procedures in place for key codes and physical keys. All keys should be accounted for, and no one should be permitted to give their keys to anyone else, for any reason.
Exterior House of Worship Security
Your exterior security includes all areas of the property outside the four walls of our house of worship. This can include parking lots, playgrounds, yards, gardens, pathways, etc. Securing your perimeter is important because 48% of all crimes at houses of worship happen outside.
Consider placing fencing around the perimeter of your grounds to help deter criminals – especially if you have a playground on the property. Keep all bushes and shrubs trimmed to limit potential hiding places and use planter barriers around the front doors or large glass openings.
Make sure that you have ample exterior lighting and that those lights are on from dusk until dawn. Every door and window should be illuminated at night – motion sensor lights can help conserve energy and are often a good deterrent.
Install ample security cameras to ensure all aspects of your perimeter and property are being recorded at all times, and consider gating your parking lot so that it may be locked up when the church is empty.
Plans and Procedures
Churches and houses of worship should have a security committee (sometimes denoted as a security ministry). Try to ask members of your congregation to join who have backgrounds in police work, security work, the legal system, first response and education.
This committee will be responsible for drafting the final plans if you’re not partnering with a security company or approving plans and recommendations presented by your security company.
Members of the security committee should also attend local, regional or state conferences or seminars on building safety to stay on top of best practices and procedures.
Additionally, members of this committee will be responsible for communicating security plans to parishioners. Those plans and procedures should be communicated to any new congregant that joins the church, as well.
In addition to interior and exterior safety measures, the final safety plan should also account for:
- Offsite events
- Mission trips
- Events open to the general public
- Hiring procedures
- Control and protection of valuable artifacts
- Cash handling
- Medical emergencies
- Lockdown procedures
- Daily opening and closing procedures
- Natural disasters
- Acts of violence (contained and mass)
These are by no means comprehensive lists for creating your safety plan. There are many other factors to take into account. Developing a comprehensive safety plan for your house of worship is important to cover all of your bases, from deterring bad actors to minimizing losses in the event of an emergency, which is why working with professionals can make the difference.
Ready To Develop Your Church Security Plan?
BOS Security in Georgia can help you develop a church security plan, help educate your security committee and parishioners, and can provide trained and vetted security guards to protect your congregation when groups are gathered.
If you’re ready to take the steps necessary to protect your church or house of worship from safety and security threats, work with BOS Security. You may contact our experts online or call 404-793-6965.