Security in the Sanctuary

Industry Focus

Security in the Sanctuary

I wouldn’t consider myself an extremely religious man, but I do go to church on a weekly basis, and I do expect my presence in the church to be safe and secure. That feeling was destroyed June 17 when Dylann Storm Roof allegedly killed nine people in a nonsensical act of violence.

This single violent act has, in some ways, changed the course of history. For instance, many people are calling for the Confederate Battle Flag to be retired, including South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley. Probably not a bad idea, but I doubt this alone was the cause for an attack.

Roof is an avowed racist, and his actions have cut the country deep to its core. No matter what race you are, this stupid act was hurtful to 99.9 percent of Americans. The Confederate flag has been a focus of protests since the fatal shooting.

In a couple of other knee-jerk reactions, the White House said that this horrifying event was because one person was able to get his hands on a gun. The president said, “We as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries.” I guess the president forgot about the recent attack in Paris at Charlie Hebdo headquarters, where 12 people were recklessly killed.

On the other hand, the Second Amendment Organization (2AO) is asking Americans to rise up and protect our nation’s churches through responsible gun training and ownership.

I have to say, this isn’t about responsible gun training or ownership, nor is it about banning weapons from this country. The 2nd Amendment still stands and is a right Americans freely have. This isn’t about pulling the trigger on security at Houses of Worship, though I chatted with a few people about church security.

"We should be concerned about security in places of worship,” said Allen Spears, president of Rugged CCTV. “Two people came into our facility and another person called—all pastors—wondering what they could do to protect their church. All three said, ‘We’ve gone long enough without security and it’s time we do something.’”

I have a hard time reconciling security in a worship setting, and the June event isn’t the first time someone has blended pure evil in church. In September 1999, a very disturbed Larry Ashbrook, 47, walked into the Wedgewood Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas. He emptied three ammunition clips from a semi-automatic handgun into a group of 150 teenagers singing hymns. Seven people died; four teens and three adults. Seven more were wounded. Ashbrook then went to the back pew and took his own life.

“These people were Sunday school teachers, a favorite soloist in the church, children’s choir director, some youth who were active and some just beginning to find God,” said Rev. Al Meredith, pastor at Wedgewood. “Our hearts are broken.”

Apparently preaching the Gospel of Christ isn’t enough security. It’s a tough question to answer because of the openness and welcoming nature of any church.

“It is very difficult to restrict traffic in a public building,” said Phil Lake, president of Knight Security. “Assuming churches are public places and most have no restriction as to visitors. We have a number of churches we provide alarm systems and access and video in certain areas but not in the main body of the church. The alarms are set for after hours and, of course, all the doors are open Sunday.

“It is very difficult to operate as usual and provide even an elementary level of security,” Lake said.

The tragedy is our society has so many people with an unbalanced psyche. And, the crazy part of most of this is that there is no good reason to act in such manner. There is no logical motive.

It would be so easy to put an access control system here or there, and a camera here or there, but that’s not enough. We’re not a nation that dictates how and when a person can worship. There are no easy answers, though faith and security at the front door plays a major role.

As an integrator, please take the time to talk to staff at your local churches. Help them, and arm them with information about providing security in a house of worship.

This article originally appeared in the August 2015 issue of Security Today.

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