Church leaders turn to active shooter training in order to protect parishioners

Emergency personnel respond to a fatal shooting at a Baptist church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, Sunday, Nov. 5, 2017. (KSAT via AP)

LOCKHART, Texas (KXAN) — More than a week after 26 people were killed when a shooter opened fire at a church in Sutherland Springs, dozens of religious leaders gathered in Caldwell County to learn from law enforcement about how to respond in an active shooter situation.

Seventy religious leaders from nearby churches packed a meeting room to hear advice from a variety of regional law enforcement.

While the Caldwell County Office of Emergency Management was already planning to have this workshop, they explained the recent mass shooting accelerated the meeting to this week.

“The topic of security in places of worship has come up since the incident in Sutherland Springs, and it’s been our mind for sometime,” said Martin Ritchey, Caldwell County Emergency Management coordinator.

Ritchey said that in Texas the church community is an essential resource for first responders not only in crisis situations, but also in disaster response.

Ritchey added that the county will be hosting similar crisis preparedness workshops in the county throughout the year. He said that like a football team, churches can better respond in an emergency if they’ve already practiced their “game plan.”

Church leaders present at the workshop learned about everything from where to run to (it’s safer to run and hide in a concrete parking garage than a flimsy shed), how to plan (it’s better to have an emergency evacuation plan and practice it), to how to fight back (even discharging a fire extinguisher can be used to deter an attacker.

They were encouraged to have conversations with both local first responders and their congregations about meeting places and evacuation routes. Law enforcement also encouraged churches that if their church members were assigned to regular security duties — whether they are armed or just keeping a watchful eye — to have those church members trained in crisis response.

Some churches in attendance, like First Lockhart Baptist Church, have already bolstered their security measures following the shooting in Sutherland Springs.

Caldwell County Office of Emergency Management hosting training for Houses of Worship on Nov. 16, 2017. (KXAN Photo/Alyssa Goard)
Caldwell County Office of Emergency Management hosting training for Houses of Worship on Nov. 16, 2017. (KXAN Photo/Alyssa Goard)

Gary Rodgers, pastor of the church, attended the workshop hoping to learn about new ways to protect the over 200 people who come to worship with him each week. He explained that already, he is aware of which church members carry weapons, but wants to step up his knowledge of security measures for his church.

Rodgers said the Sutherlands Springs shootings have pushed him and other church leaders to make immediate security changes.

“All of us will be looking at things very differently, and being more cautious — which we should have been doing the whole time — but until something goes wrong, we usually don’t fix it, which is where most of us as churches found ourselves after the situation in Sutherland Springs,” Rodgers said.

“To see something like [Sutherland Springs] take place, and it’s one of those moments where you say you can’t believe it, yet in our world, we’re learning, we’ve got to believe it, because it’s happening more and more,” he said.

Rodgers has been a pastor at his church for over 30 years, when he first started they didn’t have an alarm system. But with break-ins and national tragedies over time, he watched as security measures progressed.

“As a church, you never want to have locked doors, you wanna have open doors, but during worship, everything will be locked except the main two doors and there will be people there just watching, paying attention to everything that’s going on,” Rodgers explained.

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