Worship without worry: CCSO hosts Church Safety Class

Deputy Chad Whaley uses a prop gun in a scenario during his portion of the CCSO’s Church Safety Class Thursday evening. (Maggie Darnell for the Cullman Tribune)

CULLMAN, Ala. – Churchgoers settled in at Temple Baptist Church Thursday night to participate in the Cullman County Sheriff’s Office (CCSO) Church Safety Class. It was the second event of its kind put on by the CCSO following the November 2017 church shooting in Texas in which 26 people were killed at First Baptist Church in rural Sutherland Springs.

Instructors at this year’s class were Cullman County Sheriff Matt Gentry, Investigator Trevor Clemmons and Deputy Chad Whaley, all giving advice and answering questions about how churches should deal with emergencies.

Some of the questions posed to the crowd were: Why create a safety team? Are you willing to have weapons in the church? What are ways to establish building security?

Instructors said having a safety team in a church helps to provide a safe and secure environment for all who worship, visit and work there. “Weapons” that can be used in the church include: batons (canes, etc.), chemical spray (mace), tasers, knives and firearms. They advised that deciding what weapons should be used in the church would be a discussion appropriate for the safety team established at the place of worship with head officials.

For establishing building security, instructors advised plenty of exterior lighting, key control/access (don’t duplicate keys used for locking up), the use of some sort of ID or access cards for official members, a surveillance or alarm system, locking windows or doors and setting up exit signs or emergency lighting.

Instructors advised churches to consider the following:

  • Are side rooms or hallways locked to prevent the auditorium or sanctuary from being entered without being observed?
  • Are doors marked with signs to let visitors know what door to enter once services start?
  • Is there a way to contact staff quickly in an emergency?
  • Are there any hazards in hallways or evacuation routes that need to be cleared?
  • Are there any areas for concealment or furniture that could provide short-term barricades?
  • Who would confront a threat and who would direct others to safety?
  • Are nurseries, youth areas or Sunday school classes monitored? Are the doors to those rooms locked? Are the teachers aware of the safety team’s plan? How would the teachers notify the safety team in an emergency?

Whaley encouraged the crowd to practice situational awareness, saying, “If you see something, say something.”

He told attendees to watch for unusual emotions, behaviors or clothing/characteristics that might be linked to problematic behavior.

Said Whaley, “Trust your gut; trust your instincts. My goal is to put more good people out there than bad.”

View the entire safety class at www.facebook.com/CullmanTribune/videos/867306756961046.

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Maggie Darnell