Church safety inspires security training event


JASPER — It could happen anywhere.

A gunman killed seven people and wounded 25 during a shooting spree in Texas late last month. Nine were murdered and 27 escaped with injuries during a firearms rampage in Dayton in early August. The list goes on and on.

It’s easy to think a massacre could never occur inside the walls of a church. But according to numbers from a Shiloh United Methodist Church press release, violent incidents at churches have increased by 2,500% since 1999 and 590% since 2005.

That’s why next week, the Jasper house of worship will host a two-day training course focusing on security planning and responding to an active shooter.

“Churches in particular, for a long, long, long time, they have been and continue to be a soft target, if you will,” said Ron Flowers, who is the director of operations at Shiloh and has previous law enforcement experience.

Later, he continued: “As in other organizations as well, there’s a tendency to become complacent. To think that something cannot [or] will not happen here.”

The paid event is open to the public, and registration materials can be found at Strategos International will lead the activities. Those taking place on Friday, Sept. 13, will focus on how houses of worship and other places can plan for an intruder or other serious event; and activities taking place on the following day will relate to identifying an intruder, addressing conflict and responding to or de-escalating a threat or dangerous situation.

Flowers stressed that the event is also open to those wanting to take the knowledge back to organizations other than churches. Law enforcement representatives, those in the business and industry sectors, and anyone else wanting to learn more about planning and responding to a violent threat are encouraged to come.

“The principles and so forth that are going to be discussed, they’re targeting churches, houses of worship and those representatives,” Flowers said. “But that does not mean they don’t have relevance and applicability to ... anywhere else. They have application across the board.”

That’s because the need to plan, organize, educate and increase awareness is universal across all segments of the population, Flowers said.

He explained that data comprised specific to churches over an extended period of time indicates that serious incidents — potentially violent scenarios — can and do occur in houses of worship where the population of the town or city they are set in is less than 10,000 people.

He also said next week’s training course will explore other topics of preparedness, like being ready for severe weather, fires, medical emergencies, power outages and more that relate to a comprehensive plan.

“It’s got to be customized holistic for the particular congregation, for the organization,” Flowers said of the plans. “It has to be multi-faceted, and people need to understand it. They’re not immune to something happening.”

Shiloh already has a security team in place. Flowers said next week’s training will serve to help tweak and bolster their security plan.

Regarding the big takeaways from the training, he said that if you fail to plan for a medical emergency or a violent incident, your probability of effectively responding is diminished. And no place is immune.

“The good news is that churches don’t have to compromise on a welcoming environment,” said Vaughn Baker, president of Strategos, a Kansas City-based security training and consulting organization, in a press release. “In fact, training volunteers to be alert can have the effect of making them more engaged with people on every level. It allows pastors to be more relaxed and focused, knowing that a team has security in mind.”

Those who have questions about next week’s event can call Flowers at 634-9542.

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