San Bernadino: Tactical Lessons For Church Security

There have been two major active mass killing incidents in the U.S. this past week. As always, I try to look at situations to determine tactical responses I can use should I ever become involved in defending myself or others around me.

While watching the recent mass shooting coverage, the San Bernadino police department allowed the media to talk to the first responding officer Lt. Mike Madden.  Upon being dispatched, he pulled into an area that allowed him to direct responding officers and assemble a team to make entry and hunt the terrorists.

What he described when he entered the building is instructive for those who perform security operations for their local church.  First, it gives us a look at how officers will be responding to our building upon notification and it allows us a peek at the absolute chaos that ensues during and after an incident like this.  Since many presently carry firearms as a first line of defense, this incident can teach us a few things about tactics and ending the situation before a mass number are harmed or killed.

I’m sure you already know what happened, but let me recap for a moment:  A room full of county workers were celebrating the holidays, when one man suddenly walked out of the room and returned with an accomplice and a rifle.  Witnesses describe their activity as entering the room and “spraying” the crowd with bullets.  At the time of this writing there were 12 killed and 21 injured. The suspects quickly left the building an escaped in a rented vehicle.  Police later caught up to them and a firefight ended in the suspects being killed.  Police advised they were each armed with an AR-15 and a pistol.

No person inside the county building was armed, except for the terrorists.

We often talk about having eyes and ears in several locations throughout the church, as well as the ability to communicate with others on your team to let them know what is coming or what has happened.  While the revelers were involved in their activity, and weren’t thinking of the possibility that a terrorist was in their midst, nobody was paying attention to who was in the room or who left the building.  Having safety and security people placed strategically throughout the building during worship and teaching time is the first defense against being taken by surprise.

The first place to detect suspicious activity is in the parking lot and greeters at the door.  It is a simple thing of understanding normal behavior and recognizing intuitive (or gut) feelings.  What I often tell people is if you feel something, it is important to go with it because the brain is always detecting things subconsciously, and a gut feeling is usually the first alarm that causes us to pay attention.  Seeing something or feeling something about someone doesn’t mean you will instantly confront (unless they are doing something dangerous), but is cause enough to watch what they do.

In this case, if a man hurriedly leaves the building, goes to his car, and attempts to re-enter with a rifle slung around his neck, this is what the FBI calls a clue.  Noticing behavior and having eyes and ears available to report things to the team is the first line of defense.

Secondly, it is important you understand what your police department is doing.  Many departments are being trained in ALICE, which assumes the people inside the building will be running, hiding or fighting.

Lt. Madden described how the team entered the building and noticed a large group of people huddled in a hallway.  He described the people as being suspicious or hesitant to come to where they were being called to.  In spite of the possibility people were still in the building killing their co-workers, they were frozen in place.  You have heard of fight or flight, but one greatly ignored level is freezing in place.  Those who don’t believe anything bad ever happening to them, are most likely to suffer from the freezing effect.

This is the vast majority of people in society.  We all see criminal activity on the daily news, but so few of us actually believe it can happen to us.

Madden stated there were obviously dead people, carnage, alarms, and an overwhelming of the senses.  He related that it took him ordering the group several times to quickly walk to their location before anyone began to move.  Further, he said one person began walking toward them and then everyone else followed.

The principle to recognize here is that when tragedy strikes, people need to be led.  They need a strong reassuring voice to direct them to safety.  This is why it is important to develop a loud, calm, authoritative voice that is reassuring while having command.  This is why we make the big bucks (a little joke).  We must keep our heads when everyone else is losing theirs.

If your team doesn’t train together, then there is a good chance someone on your team may freeze in place.  This happens to the professionals too.  A technique my team was taught when a teammate appears to be frozen or overwhelmed is simply to slap the shoulder of the one not moving, and say, “Let’s go!”  This is often all is takes to get someone moving because it shifts the mind from the carnage around them to focusing on the task at hand.

Thirdly, if there are armed people present and actively engaging the threat, it may become a running battle.  Bad people attack soft targets because they believe there will be zero resistance.  The first sign of resistance (you shooting bullets at them) often changes their plans.  Those who are committed will shoot it out.  Many will commit suicide.  A few will try to escape.

In the Planned Parenthood incident, the suspect had been driven to an office area by responding officers.  Several officers were injured in this incident because the suspect was shooting through drywall and hitting officers who were not behind cover, or mistook the material they were standing behind as adequate cover.  The suspect was armed with an AK platform and most likely shooting .308 rounds through the drywall.  There aren’t a lot of materials that will stop a .308 round, and officers were forced to drive two armored vehicles into the building to pin him down.  While the suspect could shoot out of his room without worry, the officers could not shoot into the room because they feared there may be hostages or hiders in adjoining rooms. The lessons I took away from this is to remember that bullets punch through construction materials easily,  neither drywall, nor cinder block are adequate cover when the bad guy is using large rounds.  Additionally, while we can use the principle of shooting through drywall to hit the suspect, we can’t shoot unless we know who is in that room.  If he enters the custodian’s closet and closes the door, it might be a safe bet he is alone.  However, if enters a Sunday School room, it’s a good bet he isn’t alone.  While he has the luxury of shooting at will, we have to be aware of where our rounds are going.

If team members are able to isolate a suspect to one location of the church, it is critically important to relay the information to police dispatch or for a team member to communicate with an officer on scene and direct him to where he needs to go.  In the Planned Parenthood incident, the police were able to access the facilities camera system.  This was very helpful in keeping an eye on the suspect as he moved about the office.  The commanders were able to reveal his tactics, so the responding team could adjust their movements and bring equipment up to help them solve the tactical problem.  If your church uses CCTV, if safe to do so, assign a team member to lead the police to where the equipment is located.

Here a just a few take away lessons, feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section.

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