A little over two years ago, the formation of what is now formally known as Counter Threat Group,LLC., was underway. A meeting was planned in Birmingham for June 18, 2015 to map out ideas for organizing a company that would assist Houses of Worship in addressing the growing number of risks they face. While I was staying overnight in a hotel in route to Birmingham, Alabama the night before the meeting, the Charleston church shooting took place in which white supremacist Dylann Roof murdered nine African-Americans at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. This horrific event was further confirmation for the need for Counter Threat Group, LLC., to exist after several years of independent research and prior to the organizers even knowing one another.
In the aftermath of the Charleston shooting, we witnessed a strong awareness that developed for churches of all sizes to form security teams, prepare for active shooters and manage the delicate balancing act of receiving visiting worshippers warmly and being suspicious of them at the same time. For years, some of the larger churches that have the financial resources, hired uniformed and plain clothes off duty law enforcement and increased capital expenditures for sophisticated surveillance and security systems. Even with the increased emphasis, the number of “deadly force” incidents continued to remain high. Unfortunately for churches like Sutherland Springs and Charleston, they lack these resources and create fertile ground for soft target executions such as the one carried out by Devin Patrick Kelley.
Mass casualty events such as the Orlando shooting, Mandalay Bay and the recent New York terror attack cover the news cycle for a few days with the familiar faces of noted security experts as well as politicians and media from throughout the world offering their expertise and opinions as to what triggered the events and how to prevent future occurrences. Unfortunately, lately, the reporting of one tragic event is interrupted by the occurrence of another of equal or expanded horror. The attention for these events are short-lived and we quickly get back to the familiar complacent pattern of thinking this could never happen in our setting.
In our country, these type of events are inexcusable. The events at Sutherland Springs should sound the alarm to the faith community. All groups including the faith community should set expectations high within its ranks to be prepared as much as possible for the potential of these events occurring. I have been in church my entire life and have served in leadership roles within the church for my entire adult life. Whenever a roof needed to be replaced, organ purchased, or any assortment of unexpected emergencies took place, church members came through with the financial resources and remedies, even when the operating budget did not exhibit the church had the financial capability. Church leadership should pave the way to have the church undergo independent risk threat assessments. Church budgets must now make allowances for security measures after careful consideration of its unique situation in the same way it makes provisions to pay insurance and other fixed expenditures. Houses of Worship should form alliances with local law enforcement to discuss local “intel” that is concerning to all parties. If you do not have a church security ministry, start one now. If your church is in a state that allows certain individuals the right to carry a weapon on the premises, you must ensure they are adequately trained and a plan exists to prevent an active shooter. And lastly, similar to a multitude of other “terrorist” incidents, church members should be encouraged to provide information to church leadership about individuals exhibiting unusual behavior without the fear of embarrassment or retaliation. In almost every mass casualty event similar to Sutherland, someone knew something that was instinctively amiss with the perpetrator preceding the event.
Sadly, this is where we are today. However, the trends have been there but not widely disseminated. Carl Chinn, a victim of a faith-based violent incident, does a fantastic job compiling the extent of non-accidental deaths and incidents against Houses of Worship since 1999. Our model at Counter Threat Group,LLC., is to provide preventive not reactionary techniques in dealing with multiple risks that churches face. Each church will make decisions that are appropriate for their particular environment as to the how to deal with these increased threats particularly with the vast majority utilizing volunteers. There certainly is not a ‘one shoe fits all approach’, but all churches should be preparing for worst case scenarios.
More to follow…..
Photo credit: ABC13 Houston