By Dave Young

Many people confuse being prepared with being hopeful. While those words may have a similar connotation, they are completely different.  The challenge when developing safety and security procedures for entering a house of worship, is the need to create a welcoming environment without compromising the safety and security of all who enter.

Some believe that there should be no additional security in place since God will protect.  Even though faith plays an important role in your own safety and security, we need to understand the difference between being hopeful and being ready.  Being ready means, we are trained and prepared to take the proper action needed if things that comprise our safety and the security of others occur, being hopeful is optimistically thinking you will not have to use that training.

 When the goal is a balance of safety and security, I recommend starting with the visual safety.  This is the strategic positioning of staff, and signage (consisting of various size, colors, placement, proper word choices), lights, gates and barriers, restricted entries, cameras, and so on.

Selecting and Training of Staff

Maintaining a highly visible staff requires a few things.  I recommend having a safety team consisting of members in good standing with completed a background checks and an application with 3 credible references. Next, even if your staff is composed of volunteers, they all must be trained.   If you do not train your staff for safety teams, you will have situations that quickly and without notice erupt. Their training should consist of your institution’s policies and procedures, the layout of buildings and property, and the expectations of the position along with what is not permitted.  This should be supported with communication training to help them interact verbally with others.  They should have the tools to non-escalate and deescalate situations:  this entails identifying, managing, and resolving conflict in a way that minimizes the possibility of a conflict escalating to a crisis.

Setting the Stage for Safety

When you have your safety staff selected, trained, and provided with the appropriate uniform (casual clothing with a bright yellow reflective vest saying SAFETY), you need to strategize their physical positioning.

The amount of staff and where they are placed is extremely important. Too many staff convey a message of worry, concern, and anxiousness, which can translate to possible paranoia. This can then create an environment where members are worried and scared, and it may deter them from coming.

The balance should provide a visual reminder that members and guests are safe and as they enter the property.  When parking, there could be a person in a yellow reflective vest providing a non-verbal gesture (wave, head nod and a smile) acknowledging their arrival or a sign such as “Welcome you to Our Place of Worship.”  The visual presence of a person will always hold more weight than a sign; however, a sign can be used as a force multiplier.

Then, as they enter the walkway to the church or other place of worship, they see another person in front of the doors to greet them.  The greeter gives a kind welcome, eye contact, a smile, and possibly a handshake or pat on the back.  There is also a sign at the entrance, “This premise under video surveillance; Don’t forget to say something if you see something; Report any suspicious behavior to your Safety Representatives.”

By creating an environment with these visual affirmations and verbal announcements, members and guests enter the place of worship feeling that they are welcome and safe to worship there and that they can assist in improving everyone else’s emotional safety as well.

Managing the flow of foot traffic

Having assigned entry points for specific locations within your house of worship can help eliminate overcrowding, panic, or stampedes caused by panic situations. This limited entry also makes it easier to detect possible threats.

For example: If you have 6 doors entering your place of worship, identify 3 locations to be open for the start of service.  Mark them and make them clear to everyone approaching that these are the access points.  This give you 3 specific locations to monitor and assess the specific needs of people entering.

The bottom line is if a person knows where to go and has a visual identifier before entering a building, they are more than likely to move in that direction.  There are always exceptions to this; however, this is the primary law of behavior. People in chaos will follow the person in front of them, yet if the flow of pedestrians is able to see an arrow or direction to move in, they will select the one they can see and/or hear.

As you select these 3 locations, one of these (the middle location) should be for any people needing assistance with escorts, walkers, wheelchairs etc. For example, if three doors are open, the right and left doors are open leading into the place of worship and the center entrance is for people who need assistance since entering through the front will allow them to walk the shortest route from the door to their desired seating.

At the end of service, all the doors are opened to assist people to exit quickly and provide some guidance and organization.  For example, if parked on the right side of the building, then the two best exits are the doors to the right of the worship area.  Designate any escorts, wheelchairs, or walkers for special pickup are through the center two doors.

I recommend creating a video to help explain how to enter and exit your place of worship, and how to easily identify your safety and security teams by the clothing they are wearing.  This will assist the church in a few areas.

  1. Provide an illustration in your program book highlighting your plan for managing movement
  2. Establishing a Social Contract.
  3. Explain to everyone what is expected.
  4. Showing everyone what is expected.
  5. Teaching everyone what and who to look for regarding assistance.
  6. Educate everyone how to enter and select their seating safely
  7. Inform everyone how to exit the building quickly and safely.
  8. Help everyone understand where all entry and exits are positions.
  9. Help identify who is a helper and who is staff
  10. Eliminate doubt in times of emergencies

The balance of safety and security takes the efforts of all staff and members.  Being safe isn’t a word we say to make ourselves to feel safe.  Being safe means, we have the things in place to take the action needed when we aren’t safe.

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 Dave Young Bio

Dave Young is a Co-Founder of Vistelar, and their Director of Training.  Dave graduated from his first law enforcement academy in 1985, and now has over 30 years of combined civilian and military law enforcement experience and training.  Dave is a control systems analysis and has served as a sworn corrections and law enforcement officer in the state of Florida, and a special investigator, Special Reaction Team (SRT) Team member, Leader and Commander in the United States Marine Corps.  Dave is a published author of “How to Defend Your Family and Home,” an edged weapons designer who travels both domestically and internationally to train others.