August 17, 2022
Written by Craig Cable, Director of Ministry Safety, ACG Colorado
If there is one thing I have learned over the last decade while working private security and as a sworn peace officer, the more critical the incident, the more likely change will come out of it. Much like a pendulum, an incident occurs, and everyone cries for change. Then, as time passes, focus and energy wane, and we slip back into our normal pre-incident routines. Well, some events are so heinous that they become watershed moments that truly drive significant change. I believe that the school shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas will be one of those instances that force major changes in policy, emergency plans, and response tactics.
On May 24, 2022, at approximately 11:30 a.m., an 18-year-old gunman walked unchallenged into Robb Elementary School through an unlocked door and executed two teachers and 19 students ranging in age from 9 to 11 years old. Through a tragic series of events (both intentional and unintentional), the shooting in Uvalde had become the second worst school shooting in our country’s history; second only to Sandy Hook where 20 small children and six adults were killed.
Within days of the incident, emails and phone calls started pouring in from churches and Christian schools asking me if I had any recommendations to help safeguard their ministry from an attack. While some of my advice was specific to the location, there were a few general themes that applied to everyone.
As much as we all wish we could check the PREPARED box, preparedness is not a task to accomplish but rather a pursuit to follow. Things are always changing, programmatically, seasonally, culturally, and environmentally. Threats are constantly emerging, and we need to have a process for continually evaluating and assessing the impact that those threats could have on our ministries. Additionally, there needs to be a security “champion.” This is a person who is responsible for making sure that assessments are being made and that there is someone to respond to should an attack occur. In the case of the Uvalde school shooting, it is my understanding that there was no single person on campus that day who was focused on the security and well-being of the children. While there was no way to predict that an attack was imminent, having a security person inside the building at the time of the attack may have changed the outcome.
[TIP] Schedule periodic meetings (quarterly or bi-annually) with members of your leadership team as well as key volunteers who have a safety or security responsibility. The goal is to make sure that everyone is up to speed on current or future exposures that could pose a potential threat to the ministry. It is also important that you have sufficient security resources present during times when the ministry is most vulnerable.
If you look at historical catastrophic events, you will see that most of these incidents were the result of the convergence of bad timing, errors, unforeseen circumstances, and negligence. In the case of the Uvalde school shooting, it was an unlocked school door that had been previously propped open, which gave the shooter access into the building. Once the shooter was in the classroom, a lack of leadership, communication, training, and the execution of tactics were all contributing factors to the catastrophic loss of life.
[TIP] Be vigilant about the little things. Ministries are notorious for being inconsistent with security practices. Propping open doors, not screening some volunteers, not being consistent with child check-in/check-out practices, and not properly training new volunteers are all accidents waiting to happen. While a security champion is important, protecting the ministry should be a team effort shared by many. Instill and encourage a culture of security that has everyone being vigilant to potential threats.
This statement is often quoted in security and law enforcement training, and I could not agree more. While it is possible that people can spontaneously rise to the occasion in a crisis, it is more likely that individuals will fall back to their highest level of training. If they are trained well AND have the right mindset, the more likely they are to prevail in the crisis. As a peace officer, I have been through several active shooter training courses. I participated in the same active shooter response training that the Uvalde Police Department had recently been through. I believe mindset played a significant factor in the protracted response timeline. All it would have taken was a single officer to lead the charge, and I believe others would have followed.
[TIP] Invest time and energy in scenario-based training that takes the hypothetical and theoretical out of the equation. The goal is to pressure test your processes and training in an environment where an incident is likely to occur. When it comes to deciding on what topics to train on, be sure to include both low-level and high-level threats. I encourage ministries to train volunteers in things like de-escalation, lost child response, medical emergencies, and dealing with disruptive individuals, and the aggressive attacker. Having some level of training in all these areas will help your team stay calm and make good decisions in what could be a highly stressful situation.
In closing, my heart and prayers go out to everyone impacted by the tragic events of May 24th. I believe we all have a responsibility to the victims, their families, and the communities that we serve to take the hard lessons learned from Uvalde and begin the process of looking objectively at the changes we need to make within our ministries to identify potential threats, minimize the small preventable mistakes, and properly train our staff and volunteers. While I recognize that we cannot prevent every attack, I want to know that I at least did everything I could to help keep others safe.
If you have further questions, please feel free to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Craig?is a sworn peace officer and serves as a Reserve Deputy Sheriff for the patrol division at the Larimer County Sheriff’s Office. has trained hundreds of security team leaders and volunteers and was the lead developer of the?Safe and Secure?Church: The?Ministry Approach?training kit produced in partnership with Group Publishing and Brotherhood Mutual Insurance Company.?
© 2022 American Church Group of Colorado, LLC. All rights reserved.?The information in this article is intended to help your ministry better understand issues of vulnerability and mitigate risks.? It does not constitute legal advice between an attorney and a client. If specific legal advice is required, your ministry is encouraged to consult with a local attorney.?Neither Brotherhood Mutual Insurance Company, American Church of Colorado, LLC, nor?the author assumes liability for reliance upon the information provided in this?article.
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