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Our country has seen an increase in mass shootings in recent years, especially in seemingly safe places like schools and churches.  Because churches are public buildings, and often boast open door policies with little to no security, they have become more susceptible to mindless acts of violence.  Do you know if your church has put any safety measures into place so you continue feeling safe while sitting in service on Sunday morning?  Does your church even know where to begin?  Kasmann Insurance Agency would like to share some tips from our top church insurer, GuideOne Insurance.

Risk Management

GuideOne Insurance encourages churches to “integrate safety and security measures into the daily life of the congregation without compromising the church’s ministry.”  The first step is for the church’s administration to form a “Safety Ministry” by creating a Risk Management Team. The Risk Management Team will be responsible for assessing, minimizing, and preventing accidental losses to the church through the use of insurance, safety measures, etc.  The team for your church should include three to eight members who have a background in law or law enforcement, military, property management, and/or insurance risk management.

The Risk Management Team for your church should meet no less than quarterly to identify and respond to areas of risk involving all activities, ministries, and special events happening at the church.  The mission of this team is to educate themselves on all elements of church risk management, identify the risks specific to their church, plan responses to security issues, and to then train the congregation on those issues of safety and security.

In addition to executing a Risk Management Team, GuideOne also encourages congregations to adopt a “Church Watch Program.” Members of this program would act similarly to a Neighborhood Watch group, by keeping an extra eye out on the property when church is not in session, and reporting any unusual or suspicious activity to the police.

Lessen the Vulnerability

Acts of violence in churches receive a lot of media attention, and while these acts seem to be on the rise, it is important to remember that they are still rare.  Most violent acts are carried out by someone with a direct connection to the congregation and there are often warning signs such as a dispute or previous outburst.  Regardless of any preindication, there is no guarantee that violence can be avoided.  It is the responsibility of the church’s leaders to act as shepherds and “protect their flock.” The best approach for protection is for the church to educate and prepare its members, as well as implement safety and security methods that will ensure your church is less vulnerable.

OTHER IDEAS TO MAKE YOUR CHURCH LESS VULNERABLE:

  • Appoint a Security Director from the Risk Management Team
  • Invite local law enforcement to conduct a security assessment
  • Develop a security plan for all staff and include ushers, greeters, and other frontline workers and volunteers
  • Establish a seating plan for ushers and/or security personnel so that they are strategically stationed throughout the church and by exits
  • Create a plan for lockdown procedures, crisis communication (walkie-talkies, two-way radios, cell phones, etc.), and evacuation
  • Enact a method for quickly communicating a threat to the Security Director and authorities
  • Institute a no tolerance policy for fights or altercations
  • Work with local law enforcement to provide training for staff and frontline members on dealing with disruptive individuals and indentifying and diffusing potentially violent situations

Security Guards

Your church may even go a step further, and consider the use of armed security.  Churches have three choices when it comes to providing security for their building and members:

  • Hire off-duty law enforcement
  • Hire a professional security guard service
  • Maintain its own security guards within the congregation

The most cost effective option may be to set up an internal security team, but by taking this route, the church accepts liability for the actions of its employees and volunteers.  The church would also be responsible for all background screenings, training and education (including licensing, certifications, and permits), setting guidelines regarding the use of force, and supervision of this internal team.   The training needed would go far beyond basic gun etiquette or conceal and carry guidelines; it must also include dealing with disruptive people and diffusing potentially violent situations.

While police officers have exceptional training in the above-mentioned areas, using off-duty law enforcement to protect a church does not typically release the church from liability, either. The best option is to hire a professional security team because this option does transfer some of the liability away from the church.  If your church opts to do this, they will want to know the training and screening processes of the security company, check guards’ references, and know supervision practices.  They will also want to verify the security service has adequate insurance coverage and require that the church be listed as an additional insured and that a certificate of insurance is provided.  Your church may even go a step further and require a “hold harmless” agreement that indemnifies the church from any injury or damage done by a security guard.

Insure With the People You Trust

What does all this mean for you? Ask your church leadership about the security procedures for your congregation.  If nothing has been done yet, encourage your church to start the discussion and make plans moving forward.  The agents at Kasmann Insurance will be happy to talk to your church leaders about your liability and property protection.  We can even provide helpful fact sheets, checklists, sample forms and guides, such as “Preventing Crime and Violence – A Safety Guide for Churches” from our partner GuideOne Insurance.  For more information on GuideOne’s FaithGuard Comprehensive Church Protection, click here.