Traditionally, churches are areas of free access to the public; this is the nature of their functions in society. Before the unfortunate rash of school shootings, the same was true for the education system. However, since that time, many schools have opted to lock their doors during school hours, and have implemented a number of other safety measures including security guards and conducting safety assessments.
Many churches have not followed this lead. Though it is important to remain a welcoming place to those seeking worship, refuge or simple comfort; at the same time you want to make sure your patrons remain safe. It has become all too apparent that churches are also not immune to tragedy.
- Make a thorough property assessment. This is the first and perhaps most important task to assure the security of any public place. This can be a time consuming task, requiring extensive resources to complete effectively, but one well worth doing.
Depending on the size of your church, it may be worth enlisting the help of volunteers to round out the effort. Also bring along a camera, smartphone, writing pad or other recording device to keep track of each hazard incidence you encounter.
Besides looking for weaknesses in security, you should also be on the lookout for safety hazards. Are all handrails secured? Are there any tripping hazards? Are emergency exits clear, and are emergency lights and fire deterrent systems in place and working?
When looking for potential theft weaknesses, try to think like a criminal. Do all the doors and windows lock, and are they locked when needed? Are valuables such as laptops and other easy to walk off items stored securely when not in use?
Make sure to be thorough. Taking notes is a good start, but pictures are also very helpful. Don’t rush through, but rather take the time to assess each room and area from floor to ceiling. There is no such thing as being too cautious.
- Create a plan of action. Start by proposing a solution for any concerns you come across, or otherwise may conceive. Determine the importance and imminence of each threat. Organize your list in order of concern, and handle immediate and easy problems right away. For those that may take some time to address, post warning signs to prevent mishaps in the meantime.
It is also worth recording your progress in fixing these problems, and storing these records in a place they will be safe for years. This will make any future assessments much easier, and show your church’s commitment to safety. You should also set deadlines to make sure you complete your list in a timely manner.
- Create a complete inventory of valuables. While you are looking for problem areas, it is worth taking the time to make a thorough list of the church’s valuables. This is not only to be aware of objects a thief could easily walk away with, but to have an extensive list of the church’s belongings in case any other tragedy should strike.
All too often, in any location, the victims of calamity realize too late that they aren’t fully aware of what was lost.
- Set and maintain procedures for risky situations. Though a church is not a place one would often associate with risky behaviors, they present themselves in innocuous ways. Background checks, for instance, when hiring new employees are just one way to keep your parish safe.
Also, money management security is a key factor not only in protecting the church, but ensuring the safety of parishioners as well.
- Make sure you’re covered in case of any catastrophe. Once you’ve established a thorough inventory, your next step is to secure insurance coverage ensuring items can be quickly replaced after theft or damage – so you can keep meeting your ministry’s needs.