Churches hold active shooter response trainings for their congregations

It's a balance to be welcoming but secure, pastor says

Churches in Henry County are preparing for the worst while hoping for the best as they hold active shooter response trainings with their congregations through Henry County Emergency Management.

Just like the Boy Scouts motto, it’s better to be prepared, said Walt Jackson, director of Henry County Emergency Management.

“You never know when someone could go off the deep end,” Jackson said. “There were three different shooters this weekend we didn’t even hear about.”

Since 2000, 4 percent of active shootings were in a house of worship, Jackson said. “It is a real thing out there. It’s good we’re getting into churches,” he said.

New London Christian Church is holding an emergency preparedness training later this year.

Rod Cooper, associate pastor of New London Christian Church, said he wants his congregation to confidently know what to do if an active shooter were to come through the doors.

“We’re trying to balance being welcoming, but secure,” Cooper said. “If there is an active shooter, he’s going to get in, but you can delay, have a plan and give your people confidence we’re prepared.”

New London Christian Church has also toyed with the idea of installing panic doors to control who could get in and may have a security team who acts as greeters as an extra set of eyes at the door during services.

“We just want to intercept any potential dangers, and buy time so if people do need to evacuate, they could exit out the other side of the building,” Cooper said.

Cooper said he isn’t just concerned about an active shooter situation but domestic disputes as well.

Jackson, who is a member of New London Christian Church and was asked to lead the security team, said domestic disturbances for churches is more of a possibility than an active shooter.

If mom and dad are separated, and it’s dad’s weekend with “Little Johnny,” but mom says no and takes him to church, there’s a possibility of a domestic disturbance there, Jackson said as an example.

“How do we de-escalate that?” Jackson asked.

Jackson said if someone walks into church five to 10 minutes late, the security team isn’t going to slam them against the wall and pat them down.

“We’re not law enforcement, we’re just there to be a first line of defense if somebody comes in for ill will,” Jackson said.

First Presbyterian Church in Mt. Pleasant held an emergency preparedness training after their worship service on Sunday, Feb. 3.

“Unfortunately, when it comes to active shooters and crisis management, we need to be prepared and have the training to know what to do in case of an emergency,” said Trey Hegar, pastor at First Presbyterian Church. “Practice shapes how you play ... This is just like a fire drill.”

Hegar said that leaders in the church were very supportive of the training and wanted to take a proactive approach.

Hegar cited Bible verse Psalm 23:4, which says, “Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”

This verse describes a shepherd’s hook pulling their sheep to safety while the shepherd’s rod was able to fend off anything dangerous — a metaphor for how he hopes an emergency preparedness training can arm his congregation if there were to be a disaster, Hegar said.

Lt. Lyle Murray, with the Mt. Pleasant Police Department, said it’s always a good idea to have a plan in place if an active shooter were to come into a church, business or school.

“You don’t want it to happen, but there have been numerous church shootings, and it’s better to have a plan for how to react,” Murray said. “You can always take (the information) home and talk about it with your family.”

Jackson and Murray are two of four law enforcement officers in Henry County who are trained in giving active shooter response training.

Anyone interested in having an active shooter response training in their business or church can contact Henry County Emergency Management at 319-385-1479.