Keeping churches safe: Congregations learn how to protect against violence

Safety participant Gregg White, of Harrington, suddenly stood up from the audience holding a fake gun and yelled “bang, bang” showing how fast things can happen in church shootings. Special To The Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh

HARRINGTON — Dorothy Furnish, of Milford, turned on her television and saw reports of horrific church shootings around the nation in the past several years.

That’s why she chose to join 50 other church members from congregations around Delaware for an active-shooter training seminar at Harrington Baptist Church on Saturday.

All the churches represented at the seminar were gathering information and looking for better ways to secure facilities during their worship hours.

“This is very important,” Ms. Furnish said. “This has been on my mind for a very long time and the information is invaluable. The Lord said, ‘If ye are prepared, ye need not fear.’”

On Nov. 5 last year Devin Patrick Kelley, 26, armed with a semi-automatic rifle and wearing a ballistic vest, entered the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. He killed 26 people with the victims ranging in age from 5 to 72 years old.

Those kinds of senseless crimes have changed the mindsets of many church-goers across the nation.

Harrington police chief Norman Barlow talking with attendees at Saturday’s seminar. Special To The Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh

Harrington native Kevin Outten led Saturday’s program sponsored by the Eastern Baptist Association and the Harrington Police Department.

“The reactive mindset in America in general, but specifically within the church, is no longer adequate,” said Mr. Outten, a military veteran. “If you prepare to go on a trip then you buy your tickets, you pack your clothes, you do the reservations at the hotel and then you go.

“It’s basically the same thing in church safety. You have to figure out, ‘How do I want to protect my fellow churchgoers?’ and then within that plan figure out, ‘how am I going to do it?’ and ‘when am I going to do it?’ and then you make a plan and you execute the plan to get it done.”

Harrington Police Chief Norman Barlow helped put on Saturday’s training seminar after he walked away impressed by what he saw at the same event last year.

Area ministers and congregation members take notes during active shooter presentation at Harrington Baptist Church Saturday Special To The Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh

“I think it’s very important that the churches are prepared and that they can take stuff from this program and take back to their church and implement things,” Chief Barlow said. “It is a problem that we might not want to see or might not want to think about, but I’d rather be more proactive than reactive.”

Mr. Outten said it was Harrington’s police chief who helped spark such interest in the event.

“Norman is proactive in the love he has for this community and the surrounding communities to make these types of things happen,” he said. “I’m happy just to be a part of it.”

Shootings by the numbers

The Gospel Coalition’s website said it studied media reports of church shootings from 2006 to June 17, 2015 — the day of the mass shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina.

Firearms and safety expert Kevin Outten conducting active shooter planning and prevention at the Harrington Baptist Church Saturday. Special To The Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh

During that nine-year period, the organization found approximately 24 church shootings in the United States, an average of 2.7 per year.

It also said there is an estimated 378,000 congregations in the U.S., which means the likelihood of any congregation being involved in a shooting in any year is around one in 126,000 or 0.0000079 percent.

Chief Barlow said even though the numbers might appear to show a remote chance of a church shooting, it is still better to be prepared.

“I don’t want to make people scared,” he said. “I don’t want people to be deterred from going to church and worshipping the good Lord. But we pick up a newspaper or find out about it on the news and sometimes we think it’s not going to happen to us, but it can. There’s not a person in this world that doesn’t have a story of some kind.

“Whatever walk we walk in life it would be nice if they take some information and get prepared because it is very important.”

Security measures

Mr. Outten pointed out that various churches have different congregation sizes, varying philosophies towards firearms and a wide range of budgets.

“You’ve got different congregations and some look at church safety and they don’t mind for example having firearms in the church and then you have some churches that are like, ‘Absolutely not,’” he said.

“What we try to offer is a once over the world view of various options that churches can have and make sure within their comfortability zone that they can protect the flock to the best of their ability and feel comfortable. There’s no cookie-cutter answer to this. There’s just not.”

There were three main objectives in an eight-step agenda for the participants at the four-hour active-shooter training: Understand the nature of an active shooter(s); develop leadership responsibilities and develop a response plan for an active shooter.

It was those active-shooter plans that really opened the eyes of the participants and Chief Barlow said were probably the most important part of the training.

“You can’t write (a plan) down on a piece of paper and stick it in a book and then when an intruder comes through the door you have to open that book up and say, ‘Hey, let me read this,’” Chief Barlow said. “Along with anything else in life, you’ve got to practice.

“Have a game plan. Have different plays. It takes time to build it up. (Churches) could get evaluations of their buildings to assess access doors, the pattern people come in, where they park, how many people attend … These are the things we hope they grab ahold of and go with it.”

Delaware State News staff writer Mike Finney can be reached at mfinney@newszap.com.

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