It’s a scary situation we hope we never have to encounter -- what to do if an active shooter enters church while we are at Mass.
What do you do? Duck under the pew? Run for the door? Try to be a hero and grab the guy? Do you have a gun? Or is it in the car? What do you do?
The same situation happened just six months ago in a small town in Texas.
On Nov. 5, 2017, a 26-year-old male barged into a small Baptist Church in Sutherland, Texas opening fire on the defenseless congregation, killing 26 people and injuring 20. It was the deadliest mass shooting in Texas and the 5th deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history.
The next day, the phone in CFO David Brook’s office rang off the wall. Pastors from around the diocese were calling with concerns that if it could happen in Sutherland, Texas... it could happen here.
Are we prepared for something like this?
It is a terrible thing that we even have to be discussing this, but it is the world we live in, and we MUST be prepared and we MUST feel safe in, -- of all places -- our churches.
After discussing it with Bishop David Talley, it was decided that a safety plan should be developed for use in the Diocese of Alexandria.
Tim Ledet, an investigator for the Louisiana State Police, was contacted to lend his expertise in creating a plan.
“The plan we came up with has been accepted by the bishop, accepted by the Presbyteral Council, and is scalable (workable) for any size parish,” said Brook. “We think it is a good plan.”
Workshops are being conducted throughout May in the four deaneries to present the plan to the pastors and parish representatives.
“The workshops presented the pastors and the parish reps with the tools for putting together their own plan for their parish, no matter how large or small,” said Brook.
The plan has two major parts: creating a Planning Team and creating a Safety Team.
The Planning Team is responsible for coming up with the comprehensive plan that covers these five areas -- prevention, protection, mitigation, response, and recovery.
The Planning Team does a walk-through of the church building and identifies potential threats and hazards, assesses the probabilities, and prioritize the threats/hazards. The team puts their findings together in the form of goals, objectives, and courses of actions, and finally writes the plan into a comprehensive, yet easy to understand document to share with the Safety Team.
When the plan is complete, it should be simple, and easy to implement,” said Brook. “It’s primarily about how to handle an active shooter, but can be used to handle all types of threats, hazards, and dangerous situations -- from characters walking into the church to people hanging around the parking lot.
“It is important to share the existence of a plan with the congregation so that everyone knows what to do in the event of a situation,” said Brook.
The Safety Team should be made up of individuals who are prepared to act before first responders arrive in an emergency. Safety team members could be parishioners who are first responders (police, fire, EMS, military, etc), medical professions (doctors and nurses, etc), or counselors and social workers. Other team members, (who may be greeters, ushers, staff members) may have special duties like monitoring or making calls for help.
Once the Safety Team is assembled, it receives initial training and then ongoing training.
“There are so many little things that could have been done to prevent the shooting in Texas had they been better prepared,” said Brook. “It’s a shame that we have to do this, but if we can put forth the effort on preparation and training, I think it will make a big difference in keeping our people safe and feeling safe while at Mass.”
By Jeannie Petrus, CT editor