VIRGINIA BEACH — In the United States it’s 2018 and virtually no place is safe from random acts of violence: Not schools, not concerts, not the workplace, and not churches.
In a nation full of guns and people willing to use them, no one, it seems, is safe.
Recently, at Regent University in Virginia Beach a day-long seminar titled “Prepare-Plan-Protect” took place, and during the event Stephen Webb, a principal lecturer at the university as well as a 27-year veteran of the Virginia State Police, spoke about “Threat Considerations for Faith-Based Institutions.”
“There are both internal threats and external threats for which our faith-based institutions must prepare,” said Webb, who retired from the Chesapeake Field Office in 2013 as the lieutenant in charge of general criminal investigations for the Bureau of Criminal Investigations. “We are not only concerned with someone coming through the doors waving a weapon, you also have to concern yourself with the other issues entailed.”
Webb said a few of the things churches need to consider doing include background checks for volunteers and staff; looking at how many church members might be carrying concealed weapons; how to limit building access; key logs and door codes; and not only having security plans, but communications plans as well.
At Crossroads Church in Norfolk, Lead Pastor Kevin Tremper said that indeed, many churches are unprepared and without the necessary plans.
“Churches are a good target because the day and time of services are published and open to the public. Because of that it makes churches a predictable target,” he said.
Tremper said because of recent events, Crossroads has formed a security team that is tasked with planning and procedures, and which has begun training for responding to worst-case scenarios.
“Recently, we had our church leadership and staff sit through a training with the Norfolk Police Department to go over safety measures that we need to consider as a church.”
Webb said meeting with and working with local law enforcement is a good place for churches to start.
“Discuss responses to threats with your staff, before events occur,” Webb said. “Making wise choices related to basic security measures is important.”
Many institutions become complacent, he said, assuming they won’t be victimized.
The FBI offers a program called Infragard that can help churches when it comes to planning and preparing, Webb said.
Tremper said churches can also be easy targets because of their “welcoming ethos.”
They need to be mindful of the times, he added, and not operate with a false sense of security that nothing bad can happen within church walls.
“More than anything our leadership is just more observant and aware of who is coming and what issues people have,” Tremper said. “Engaging people and caring for them can go a long way with identifying struggles that people may have.”