Acts of Violence and Other Disaster Considerations

December 15, 2017
Events over the past year have brought us to the realization that our houses of worship can now be targets for violence and disaster. As stewards of the gifts that God has given us in the form of friends and family within our congregations, it is incumbent upon us to take steps to mitigate the danger of possible violent acts. 

There is no easy answer to this danger. Each church, each congregation, each community is different and in this difference, there are unique factors for each that must be considered. While there is no “one-size-fits-all” plan, there can be a common process that we can use to minimize and limit the potential for violent acts.
  • The first step that we must take is to recognize that we are vulnerable and should take active steps to reduce that vulnerability. To understand the scope of the vulnerability, we should closely look at our facilities, community resources, available training, and the gifts and graces within our congregations. This examination should reveal shortcomings as well as resources and options that we can use.
  • Establish a working group within the congregation that will be responsible for the evaluation and planning of church security. It would be ideal if one of the members had a security, safety, or law enforcement background. If that resource is unavailable within your congregation, then reach out to local or state law enforcement for specific advice.
  • Each church needs a disaster response plan for both  its congregation and for its facilities. This plan would include considerations for acts of violence, natural or man-made disaster, and other events that would directly impact the congregation, the use of the facilities,  and the community. The conference provides a workshop designed by UMCOR called “Connecting Neighbors” that assists churches in developing these plans.
  • Contact local and/or state law enforcement to see how they can be of assistance in developing both your plan and a possible response. In addition to contacting law enforcement resources, local churches should reach out to the first responders and the fire department and EMS to fully understand what their response may be in the event of an active shooter or other violent act.
  • It is recommended that all the first responders be invited to tour the facilities and become intimately knowledgeable of the facilities and be involved in your planning process. Use the knowledge within the group of first responders to look at your grounds and buildings with a different perspective, specifically for improving the safety and security of these facilities. Too often churches have too many members with keys and access to the church buildings. It is not unusual for doors to be left open and security to be lax because of the nearly unlimited access.
  • Local or state law enforcement may also be able to provide training for ushers and greeters. In this day and time it is not unreasonable to ask the congregation to watch for anything unusual at the church. Greeters and ushers should be trained toward awareness as well. Awareness and discernment can save lives. Once you have a plan, ensure that the ushers and key members of the congregation are familiar with the procedures. Schedule trainings and exercises with the first responders that will test the plan as well as provide opportunity for the congregation to become familiar with the plan. 
There are multiple resources available to local congregations to help them develop plans and protect themselves if incidents of violence occur. Some of these are listed below.

Active Shooter: Preparing the Faith Based Community:

Church Mutual Safety Checklist

NY Disaster Interfaith Services (NYDIS) Tip Sheets: Continuity of Operations:

FEMA, Guide for Developing High-Quality Emergency Operations Plans for Houses of Worship:

National Disaster Interfaith Network (NDIN):  Active Shooter Tipsheet:

 Connecting Neighbors workshop:
To schedule one, contact your district disaster response coordinator or Jim Morse, the conference’s disaster response coordinator.