Class Review - House of Worship Security Program
by Kirk Lawson

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Over the summer of 2018 my goal was to spend more time and effort on personal training. One of the classes I took was the House of Worship Security Program Training sponsored by the Ohio Crime Prevention Association and hosted periodically by various houses of worship throughout Ohio, in this case the Salem Church of God in Clayton, Ohio. At $40 to non-members for an all-day course how could I say no?

The website claims topics to be covered would include:
  • Active Shooter
  • Physical Security
  • Personal Security
  • Youth Safety and Programs
  • Critical Incidents
  • Financial Security
  • Electronic, Data Security
  • Organizational Protocol
When I arrived at the building, the lot was clean and neat, the property was well maintained, and it was easy enough to figure out which entrance to use. Immediately after entering, there was a manned registration table which verified the people entering and gave out the participant packets, which included an 8x11, spiral-bound, 148 page handbook. To the left was coffee and donuts. I was directed to a fairly large room with a projector and lots of tables facing forward. I seated myself, introduced myself to the person to my right, a Police Chief as it turns out, and waited for my associate, who had also decided to take the class with me, to arrive.

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The class presenters were experts in the field of crime prevention ranging from Law Enforcement Officers to Department of Defense employees.

Of course, the number one topic in everyone's mind is "Active Shooter" events. However, as was pointed out in the class, while high profile, these events are extremely rare. The greatest risk for a House of Worship, according to insurance claims, is actually slips-trips-and-falls.

Setting the tone for the day the first topic was "The Basics of Crime Prevention" which focused on simple presentation concepts such as "The Crime Triangle" of Opportunity, Criminal Desire, and Available Victim/Target and "The Four D's of Crime Prevention (plus one)" of Deter, Delay, Deny, Detect, and Devalue. The single most important key concept, which we returned to time and again in the class, is "Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design" or "CPTED" (pronounced "sep-ted"). Concepts of CPTED dominated the majority of the day. How to design hedges, number doors, place driveways and obstacles, managing the property, "Broken Windows Theory," territory, physical barriers, the power of symbolic barriers, surveillance, and a whole lot more.

Lunch was not provided but there were fast food restaurants easily available and, for a $40 entrance that was to be expected.

While all of the listed topics were presented throughout the day, after lunch the presenters delved into "Active Shooter." Much of the discussion of prevention before event revolved round CPTED, monitoring, and interaction with police and other Houses of Worship. Dealing with an in-process Active Shooter event, the concepts revolved primarily around Department of Defense "Run, Hide, Fight" philosophy. One key point the presenters made is that "Run, Hide, Fight" is not a system of first do this, and if it doesn't work proceed to the next, but rather situational. Many factors may require an immediate fight response while others might have the option to Run or Hide. Armed Safety Team and armed parishioners were discussed but generally discouraged by the presenters who allowed that many Houses of Worship choose to allow or encourage and then offered some suggestions such as performing a criminal history background check. I found this odd because the statistics indicate that armed resistance of any type has a remarkably high chance of stopping an Active Shooter and anyone with an Ohio Concealed Handgun License (CHL) has automatically undergone a background check performed by the state. The presenters emphasized the need for continuing training and team based training.

Following this discussion the presenters broke the attendees into groups which were sent out into the Church building and grounds to look at their environmental controls and think about how the rooms and environment might be used to deal with or discourage an attack and look for improvised weapons to use in the case of an attack. It was a kind of training drill.

The real value out of the class, in my opinion is the earlier mentioned handbook. It contains detailed notes and slides of all the material, delving much deeper into many of the topics. It is interspersed with real life examples of failures of all of the subjects being discussed, has extensive recommendations, and suggestions. It covers a much more broad series of topics than just what a House of Worship Safety Team. Many potential safety or liability hazards for a House of Worship are examined such as the safety of a Church Van, who drives it, rules for maintenance and preparation, and rules for passengers.

After the class, I received a PDF "Certificate of Attendance and Completion." Remember that Police Chief I mentioned earlier? This course is worth Continuing Education credits for Law Enforcement and the Certificate is his proof.

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Over all, this was definitely a worthwhile effort. The day was well spent and the handbook has become an important reference book for me and my Church.

I recommend this course to anyone interested in improving the physical, financial, or data safety of their House of Worship.