Security Considerations for Houses of Worship

In 2013, spurred by the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook, the federal government released three safety guidebooks for K-12 schools, college campuses and houses of worship.

Security Considerations for Houses of Worship
Having a security system installed in your house of worship will give your staff and congregants a better worship experience.
Security Considerations for Houses of Worship
Having a security system installed in your house of worship will give your staff and congregants a better worship experience.

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Security Considerations for Houses of Worship

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While K-12 schools and college campuses generate the majority of crisis scenarios and media coverage, houses of worship represent a departure as highlighted by this emergency operations planning guide from FEMA.

Typically devoid of the same security measures deployed in school campus settings, houses of worship have faced similar instances of active shooter situations. As a result, developing security and response protocols for these areas – especially large and multi-building worship campuses – has become a point of focus for church leaders. FEMA’s Guide for Developing High Quality Emergency Operations Plans for Houses of Worship states, “Rapid notification of a threat can save lives by keeping people out of harm’s way.” To combat the unique security challenges faced by large houses of worship, some leaders have turned to the use of Rapid Emergency Response Systems (RERS) to build a security program that best suits their differing needs.

Across the country, schools have taken serious steps to re-evaluate security protocols and systems due to the increase in active shooter situations. In many cases, advanced video surveillance systems, access control procedures and trained security personnel are the steps taken to shore up emergency response protocols. Indeed, these steps are important, but, compared to school campuses, houses of worship face different and unique challenges in developing security measures.

The demographics in churches range in age – from toddlers to seniors – and in operational responsibility – from volunteers available on an ad-hoc basis to paid staff on-site daily. Developing security measures to fit these varying groups requires creative thinking and an understanding of the needs of the church.

For security professionals, there are two distinct scenarios to account for when working with church leaders. First is during the week, when the church is not full. Unlike school campuses, which are packed with students and faculty during the work week, houses of worship typically have a small number of personnel during this time period. With this in mind, the strategic development of emergency plans requires that the paid staff in the building on a daily basis bear the greatest amount of responsibility during crisis situations.

Contrarily, houses of worship see the greatest percentage of use during the weekends (typically Sunday) and various evenings, where school campuses are usually empty. During the week, with a low expectation of frequent comings and goings, some churches have deployed access control measures, allowing only certain personnel entry during designated times. Obviously, during high usage times like these, access control safety tactics are impractical and uninviting. To avoid this scenario, other houses of worship have turned toward new RERS security technology for comprehensive emergency response.


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Worship Facilities Magazine, November-December 2017
The November-December 2017 issue of Worship Facilities Magazine offers a review of the 49 New Product Award entries this year, as well as those entries up for Solomon Awards in 2017.


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