|St. Thomas Catholic Church, Onilekere, Ikeja, Lagos|
Sunday, 24 September 2017
Security Awareness: Best Practices To Secure Places Of Worship, Protect Against Active Shooter
Introduction: The age-long reverence for places of worship and religious leaders is increasingly eroding around the world. The unprecedented security threats to places of worship are diverse and alarming. They include: terrorist attacks, kidnapping of religious leaders and congregants, theft of relics and offerings, arson active shooter incidents, amongst others. An active shooter is an individual actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a populated area. Victims are selected at random. Event is unpredictable and evolves quickly. I will cite some incidents to buttress the fact that places of worship, religious leaders are no longer venerated nor spared by men of the underworld.
At about 8:30am on September 8, 2017, three gunmen posing as worshippers invaded St. Thomas’ Catholic Church, Onilekere, Ikeja, Lagos State, Southwest Nigeria and shot the Parish Priest, Rev. Daniel Nwankwo at close range. The incident took place after the priest concluded morning Mass. In Imo state, Reverend Father Cyriacus Onunkwo was on September 1, 2017, abducted and subsequently killed in cold blood by his assailants. An police ex-corporal, Mr. Jude Madu, is one of the five suspects arrested for masterminding the abduction and killing of the priest.
On August 6, 2017, a gunman (active shooter) or gunmen as some say, infiltrated St. Philips Catholic Church, Amakwa Ozubulu in Ekwusigo LGA, Anambra state, southeast Nigeria during a 6.00am Mass and massacred about a dozen congregants (some newspaper reports claimed 35) and injured scores of other worshippers. We shall not dwell on insinuations as to whodunit or the remote and immediate causes but our aim is to proffer solutions that would forestall recurrence of such incidents. Recall that not long ago, gunmen kidnapped two Catholic Priests in Delta State, South-South, Nigeria. There was also news about a notorious kidnapping syndicate that specializes in kidnapping little children from churches. In July 2015, a suicide bomber attacked and killed five worshippers of the Redeemed Christian Church of God Church (RCCG) on the outskirts of Potiskum in Yobe state, Nigeria. October 2015, at least 30 people were killed and dozens injured in a twin suicide bomb attack on a mosque in the Mulai area of Nigeria's northeastern Borno State. Sometime in November, 2015, two suspected Boko Haram members strapped with IEDs blew themselves up near a mosque in Cameroon’s Far North province. Don’t forget the December 2011 Christmas Day bombing of St. Theresa Catholic church in Madalla, outskirt of Abuja, Nigeria’s federal capital that claimed the lives of 25 people. The aforementioned are random security incidents in and around places of worship.
Here are procedural recommendations that will help strengthen the security, safety of lives, properties in a place of worship.
1. Watch and Pray! Vigilance should be our watchword while within and outside a place of worship. This is why the Bible admonishes us to WATCH and PRAY? Notice that ‘’watch’’ precedes ‘’pray’’ and not the other way around. Many places of worship (churches, mosques) etc. out there seem to have very lax security/safety, emergency preparedness plans. The notion is that only God can protect. Granted God protects but we have to play our part of the bargain. As they say, ‘’heaven helps those who help themselves’’. Security is a collective responsibility and all hands must be on deck!
2. Establishment of a functional Security Department/Committee to be headed by a Security manager/Chief Security Officer (CSO) or whatever designation. The security department should be peopled with members of the congregation that have security background/experience (ideally, serving/retired military or law enforcement personnel, carefully selected laymen/laywomen, ushers, volunteers). A security consultant can be retained and private security operatives hired if need be.
3. Members of the security department are expected to undergo periodic security and first responder training/re-training and also have knowledge of basic first aid.
4. The security department will do well to organize periodic security awareness training, seminar, or briefings for members of the congregation.
5. An efficient and emergency communication procedure/protocol must be put in place which should specify a chain of command.
6. A detailed security policy/plan is important. A security policy is a continuously updated template that figures out, outlines how the organization plans to protect its people and properties. A typical security policy should include specifics such as: procedures for evaluating the effectiveness of the security policy to ensure that necessary corrections will be effected; stipulates who is authorized to talk to the Press/Police in the event of an incident, that under-aged children will be released ONLY to their parents or an authorized adult after service and so on and so forth.
7. Places of worship should formulate a comprehensive emergency (fire, terrorism/active shooter, health-related natural disasters) and evacuation drills/plans, lockdown procedures and scrutinize the aforementioned procedures regularly in response to plausible natural or man-made misadventure.
8. Carry out a routine comprehensive security survey, threat/risk and vulnerability assessments of the place of the facilities vis-à-vis location of the place of worship and crime demographic, identifying potential hazards, how secured the access or entry points are, fencing, untrimmed shrubs/trees, inventory of equipment amongst others. Recommendations must be put in place to mitigate such risks. Recent events demands that places of worship must re-think leaving their premises unlocked to such an extent that anybody can walk in and out.
9. A rigorous background check or screening must be done on staff of the security department, volunteers, those taking care of children and those responsible for money/finances. Don’t be carried away by how sanctimonious folks appear when they are in the public or a religious centre. A popular parlance holds that in every twelve, there’s a Judas. Again, not every member of the choir or congregation sings with the same passion. There are paedophiles, sexual predators everywhere; churches, mosques are no exceptions.
10. Ensure the place of worship is thoroughly scanned or searched prior to a religious activity or during special events. In addition to this, it is in the best interest of worshippers and visitors to have their bags, vehicles professionally frisked prior to coming into the worship centre. This is where metal and bomb detectors come into play. Recall that a while ago, about six Boko Haram militants were purportedly apprehended inside a Winners Chapel branch in Owerri, Imo state while attempting to implant improvised explosive devices within the church premises.
11. It is also important to have the contact details (phone numbers) of security agencies/agents within the locality. Consider inviting law enforcement agents to patrol or “drive-through” the parking lots, vicinity during such events, religious activities.
12. During services, have security staff/ushers that are familiar with the congregants/members should be positioned at each door and also have someone who randomly checks the halls, Sunday school classrooms, and restrooms. The security team must be vigilant to observe suspicious behaviors such as people milling around, those walking towards or leaving the premises abruptly and ensure such folks did not leave anything, an object, bag behind.
13. Security team or congregants must report any suspicious persons or activities to a designated church/parish/mosque leader who will then escalate it to the security agencies.
14. A security staff/usher should be on sentry to screen, check folks that want to see the ‘religious/spiritual leader’ after religious activities.
15. Many a times people die as a result of panic or stampede than the actual occurrence hence worshippers are encouraged to be calm and desist from congregating around the scene of an incident to avoid exposing themselves to further danger and not to destroy possible clues, evidence. In the event of an explosion or active shooter, dash to the ground and crawl to the nearest cover.
16. Indiscriminate parking of vehicles must be avoided. There should be designated areas for parking vehicles.
17. In this era of using make-shift buildings as places of worship, please carry out a due diligence, architectural integrity test to ensure the agility of the structural materials. See to it buildings are well-constructed; will not easily cave in and that there are no exposed wirings, defective ceilings amongst others.
18. Security is a collective responsibility. Worshippers MUST be security conscious; try to know their members, recognize strange faces and report suspicious behavior to members of the security department.
19. The mind is deceptive and people can give in to temptation; to guard against pilfering, two or more people must be around when funds are collected, counted and safeguarded. Apart from insider threats, there are reported cases of armed robbers raiding places of worship to cart off offerings.
20. Critical and expensive assets, valuables (musical equipment, electronics) etc. of the organization should be labelled in case of theft, safely stored and inventory taken, at least annually.
21. Given the possibility of fire incidents, flooding, a data breach, places of worship must take steps to ensure safety of sensitive records: financial transactions, receipts, membership records (addresses), amongst others. Better and safer to digitalize and backup such information and ensure no unauthorized access.
22. Partner with mainstream law enforcement agencies and promptly notify them of any breach and hand over any suspect, culprit that may have been apprehended.
Internal Physical Security Best Practices For Places of Worship
1. When practicable, places of worship must ensure that their facilities are well illuminated with security lights especially at nights.
2. An efficient access and traffic control mechanism must be activate to detect, prevent a would-be suicide bomber from gate-crashing with IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices) or VIEDs (Vehicle Borne Explosive Devices), commonly called car bombs and also to avoid inconveniencing other road users or passers-by.
3. As much as possible, limit unauthorized access to Sunday school, childcare, business offices, cash count areas, instrument/equipment and media rooms.
4. Regularly check entrance doors, windows and locks to ensure they are in working order and consider installing window security liner in public areas.
5. It may be expedient to establish a “safe room” for the spiritual head of the place of worship.
6. Promptly report suspicious packages to police, and do not touch the suspicious package. Such packages could be an IED (Improvised Explosive Device). Church members must be enlightened never to touch any suspicious package. Such issues must also be addressed during emergency evacuation procedures/drills.
7. Install burglarproof bars on screens and large openings. Bear in mind that window bars should not limit evacuation in case of fire or an emergency).
External Physical Security Best Practices For Places of Worship
1. Ramp up perimeter security with fencing or CPTED (Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design) principles. Use planter barriers and gates near entrances. Ensure gates and fences are in perfect working order.
2. Ascertain that security lights at vehicle parking space are sufficient and in working order and the timers adjusted seasonally.
3. Where feasible, install door/window alarms and motion-sensing lighting in areas that are dim, secluded.
4. Regularly trim shrubs/bushes/trees around the place of worship especially near the doors and windows to eliminate hiding places and to enhance visibility.
5. Eradicate possible fire hazards, such as trash, debris and store petrol (if any) in a safe place.
6. Religious centres will do well to establish good relationships with their neighbours and neighbourhood watch associations.
7. Thanks to the proliferation and affordability of security gadgets, financially established places of worship are encouraged to invest in some of these devices. For instance, an efficient CCTV Camera, metal or bomb detector will respectively help monitor the premises in real time, protect against intrusions, and concealed weapons, IEDs or VBIEDs. Please ensure whatever security gadgets you want to buy are tested prior to purchasing them to ascertain they work according to specification.
8. In buying a metal or bomb detector, ensure it is easy and safe to use, boasts greatest SENSITIVITY and SELECTIVITY, very minimal false alarms or noise. For CCTV Cameras, go for high-end security cameras with night vision capability, motion detection capability, consider storage capacity and ability to save videos/pictures externally, not hackable (especially for wireless cameras), weather resistant, high definition (HD) capability (though consumes more storage space), can discriminate objects at farther distances (say 75-100 feet), wide angle of coverage, amongst others. Note that wireless cameras slow down internet connections. For more details, please Google, read – Guide To Buying A Home Security Camera: 16 Features To Consider.
What Individuals Can Do In The Event of An ACTIVE SHOOTER Incident
Granted there are no one-size-fits-all answers to an active shooter security incident but knowing what to do or what action to take will definitely save lives. More often than not, active shooters employ firearms and there is no strict pattern or method to their selection of victims. When an Active Shooter is in your vicinity, you must be prepared both mentally and physically to deal with the situation. The United States Federal Bureau of investigation, FBI recommends the following course of action in the event of an active shooter scenario:
(a) Have an escape route and plan in mind.
(a) Leave your belongings behind.
(b) Evacuate regardless of whether others agree to follow.
(c) Help others escape, if possible.
(d) Do not attempt to move the wounded.
(e) Prevent others from entering an area where the active shooter may be.
(f) Keep your hands visible.
(g) Call the emergency numbers or security agents when you are safe.
(a) Hide in an area out of the shooter’s view.
(b) Lock door or block entry to your hiding place.
(c) Silence your cell phone (including vibrate mode) and remain quiet.
(a) Fight as a last resort and only when your life is in imminent danger.
(b) Attempt to incapacitate the shooter.
(c) Act with as much physical aggression as possible.
(d) Improvise weapons or throw items at the active shooter.
(e) Commit to your actions…your life depends on it.
4. When law enforcement officials arrives:
(a) Remain calm and follow instructions.
(b) Drop items in your hands. (e.g., bags, jackets)
(c) Raise hands and spread fingers.
(d)Keep hands visible at all times.
(e) Avoid quick movements toward officers, such as holding on to them for safety
(f) Avoid pointing, screaming or yelling.
(g) Do not ask questions when evacuating.
5. Information to provide to Emergency operators or first responders:
(a) Location of the active shooter.
(b) Number of shooters.
(c) Physical description of shooters.
(d)Number and type of weapons shooter has.
(e) Number of potential victims at location.
© Don Okereke, a security aficionado/analyst/consultant, writer, is CEO Holistic Security Background Checks Limited
Follow Don on Twitter: @DonOkereke
***This article was first published in February 2016 but was recently rejigged and updated.
1. Active Shooter Event Quick Reference Guide
U.S. Department Of Justice Federal Bureau Of Investigation
2. Recommended Best Practices For Securing Houses Of Worship
ASIS (American Society For Industrial Security) International