Seminar focuses on safety, security

Published 7:21 pm Wednesday, April 25, 2018

How would your congregation react if one of your members went into cardiac arrest on Sunday morning? Suppose a tornado touched down nearby during Wednesday evening services? What would you do if a gunman darkened your sanctuary doors?

While these frightening scenarios are something no churchgoer in Beaufort County wants to imagine, every church needs to plan for these and other contingencies, according to authorities. This was the message to representatives from more than 20 local churches who attended a church security/safety seminar on Tuesday night at St. Clair’s Church of Christ.

Bringing together law enforcement, emergency management personnel and first responders from various agencies in Beaufort County, this event served as a forum to help people begin thinking about the safety needs in their own churches.

“We want to be ready,” event organizer Glenn Waters said. “There’s so much out there about an active shooter, but our program is covering the whole spectrum. Our concern is the safety and welfare of our people.”

When it comes to criminal activity, churches are known to be soft targets, especially susceptible to crimes such as robberies and thefts. Some, in reflection of their Christian principals, don’t even lock their doors. Offering advice from a law enforcement perspective, Lt. Kelly Cox of the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office recommends that every church take the basic step of establishing a safety committee.

“We will not tell people what to do with their church,” Cox told those assembled. “But we also tell people that the days of Mayberry are gone… That time has changed, and we need to change with it.”

Together, a safety committee can work with parishioners, law enforcement and emergency management to develop a safety and security plan specifically tailored to a church’s needs. While each church is different, possible improvements include security systems, camera systems and entry controls, as well as free background checks for staff conducted by the BCSO.

What about situations where there is a fire, medical emergency or natural disaster? Representing Beaufort County Emergency Management, Fire and Operations Chief Chris Newkirk and Emergency Services Specialist Lisa Respess Williams offered different perspectives.

“Start to talk about and discuss all the ‘what ifs,’” Newkirk encouraged the group. “There are a lot of different plans and approaches that we can have to be prepared all around.”

Consider fire safety in your church. Have someone take a first aid and CPR class. Think about the possibility of purchasing an AED. See who among your parishioners has a background in law enforcement, military service, medicine and other emergency services. These voices can help a church prepare for the worst

Williams encouraged churches interested in working with Emergency Management to reach out to the agency. As the group works to coordinate disaster relief during emergencies, Williams says she is working to cultivate partnerships with churches in the area.

Each of these speakers invited churches in Beaufort County to contact their agencies for assistance in crafting a safety and security plan. For more information about working with these agencies, or to schedule a seminar at your church, call the BCSO at 252-946-7111 or Beaufort County Emergency Management at 252-946-2046.