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Church Safety Presentation Packs House

Approximately 200 members from area churches attended a presentation by Suwannee County Sheriff’s Office at Live Oak Church of God addressing the importance of churches developing safety plans. -SVT Photo by Jeffry Boatright

Suwannee County Sheriff Sam St. John emphasized the importance of church safety planning during the Suwannee County Sheriff’s Office presentation to area churches.
-SVT Photo by Jeffry Boatright

By Jeffry Boatright

Recent church shootings have placed an unexpected burden on churches and raised the awareness that we aren’t necessarily safe, even in our places of worship. In response, concerned pastors, along with members from various churches in the area, gathered at Live Oak Church of God on the evening of March 9, seeking measures to take in keeping congregations safe.

Welcoming an audience of approximately 200 parishioners, Suwannee County Sheriff Sam St. John emphasized the importance of churches taking the initiative to train and develop plans to follow in the unfortunate event of threatening and emergency situations, including active shooter scenarios.

After cordially greeting the crowd, St. John turned the program over to Suwannee County Sheriff’s Office Lieutenant Wayne Musgrove, who shared some startling national statistics with those in attendance. According to Musgrove, 139 shootings occurred during church programs between 1985 and 2005, accounting for 185 deaths within that 20 year period. While those numbers are certainly shocking, Musgrove revealed that there were 248 violent incidents that occurred at churches in 2015 alone, with the loss of 76 lives, which shows how violence has increased.

An active shooter, Musgrove explained, is an individual who is actively engaged in killing, or attempting to kill in a confined, populated space. The veteran law enforcement officer added that while 98 percent of active shooters act alone, statistics show that 99 percent pre-plan their attacks. On average, 75 percent of the attackers use multiple weapons, and 90 percent commit suicide following the attack.

Although Musgrove emphasized the threat of an active shooter does exist, even in rural areas, he and St. John warned churches to be conscious of all potential threats, even non-lethal threats. “Every situation is not meant for a firearm,” Musgrove cautioned.

Because many attackers are familiar with the congregations, Musgrove urged church leaders to look for unusual situations and profile traits in those who might wish to harm church members. “Things we ignored in the past, we need to pay attention to now,” he articulated while stressing the importance of awareness.

While it is the prayer of every church congregation and law enforcement that such a horrific event as a church shooting never happens again, law enforcement cannot overlook the possibilities and statistics. There is also the realization that panic is likely to ensue in the event of an active shooting or other horrifying experience. With these things in mind, Musgrove urged church leaders to develop preparedness training for each church, involving various aspects of church leadership. Such training might include key control, methods of communication, security cameras, rally points, and first aid training. Musgrove and St. John particularly emphasized the importance of first aid training.

Suwannee County Sheriff’s Office Lieutenant Wayne Musgrove presented statistics and emphasized the importance of church safety and security. -SVT Photo by Jeffry Boatright

Although Musgrove neither discouraged firearms training nor the legal carry of concealed weapons, he did emphasize that fleeing to safety and helping others find safety should be implemented if possible. He also stressed the importance of contacting 911 immediately, even while running.

If running away from an attacker, or evacuating an area is not a possibility, Musgrove presented hiding as the next viable option. He stressed the importance of seeking cover, and not just concealment. In addition to seeking cover in a safe place, such as another room or building, Musgrove emphasized the value remaining quiet, silencing cell phones, turning off lights and barricading doors.

As a last resort, which could be the only resort, Musgrove stated that fighting back is essential when life is in imminent danger. In that case, you must be committed and fight aggressively,” he asserted. Potential victims should seek anything that might be improvised as a weapon. He added that multiple people attacking an aggressor is even better.

Musgrove acknowledged the threat to safety isn’t necessarily diminished once an attacker has been subdued. He pointed out that other threats such as additional aggressors or even explosive devices could remain.

Both Musgrove and St. John stressed the importance of following the commands of law enforcement when first responders arrive, as they will not always be able to immediately distinguish between the aggressor and the victims. “Keep your hands visible,” Musgrove advised.

Acknowledging how sad it is that we must now place so much emphasis on church safety, Musgrove and St. John recognize that it could be essential for parishioners to protect themselves and their families.

“Bad guys like soft targets, and taking initiative as you are doing takes away some of the ease for the potential shooter or attacker,” St. John told those in attendance.
In addition to developing a church security plan, and possibly consulting with organizations that specialize in church security, Musgrove and St. John encourage continued training for church members who are likely to be tasked with the unfortunate duty of protecting their fellow worshipers.