The tragic events of October 28, 2018, in Pittsburgh as well as recent similar tragedies, remind us that life is precious and that evil has the potential to find us anywhere, even in houses of worship. In times like these, there are few words that can describe the unimaginable horror that gripped worshippers at Tree of Life Congregation Synagogue, or that can begin to bring comfort to those grieving the loss of loved ones taken by such senseless violence.

Circumstances as these are never easy to discuss. And, despite these gun-related tragedies, our politicians have proven to be unmoved time, and again, to offer up any solutions that have the potential to thwart the ability of certain individuals to obtain such weapons. Consequently, we are obligated to discuss the propensity for these situations to occur in our country, and in our congregations.

In the aftermath of these events, church leaders struggle for answers around church security. Among the tough questions asked are, “What can, or should, a church do to prepare for an event such as this? Should churches encourage their parishioners to be armed in the pews? Should the church hire armed security to guard their doors? How should congregants respond to an active shooter situation; lock down in place, run, hide, fight?”

For several years, Insurance Board has been providing free information and resources to churches and related ministries to inform them about relevant tools available to respond to these situations in the most appropriate ways possible. While every response is contingent upon the circumstance presented, there are several important considerations that every church should assess, evaluate, and discuss in their respective church setting. Such considerations can include:
  • What role should ushers perform in the congregation, including being responsive to safety and security of congregants; evacuating them using all available exits; being trained in First-Aid/CPR/AED; having the ability to assess threats of unwanted visitors/intruders; or being aware of, and communicating, knowledge of a specific threat or ongoing domestic dispute?
  • Where can a church find resources available to assist?
  • When was the last conversation with staff/volunteers about emergency preparedness, including conducting actual drills?
  • Are volunteers/staff familiar enough with the premises to know the best places to exit or shelter in place, if necessary?
  • Are there effective ways to notify others on the premises of an imminent threat (fire alarms/public address system, etc.)? Do people know where these are?

Additionally, with regard to guns on the premises, most experts do not recommend encouraging civilians to carry guns into the pews. Concealed carry laws vary widely by state, and individuals may actually find themselves in legal jeopardy if the use of a gun is not specifically authorized under the state’s concealed carry law. Also, congregants with guns in the pews may create confusion once law enforcement officials arrive at the scene. This could further exacerbate an already tense situation. If a church decides to provide armed security, it should be provided by an off-duty, uniformed law enforcement officer. A law enforcement officer in uniform may deter an event from happening, and a law enforcement official is best trained to react to a hostile situation.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) have resources and information about what an individual should do during an active incident. Those options include run/escape, hide/lockdown, or fight/counter. Visit FEMA to learn more about being prepared during an active shooter incident.

During an active shooter incident, running or escaping the environment is the optimal solution, but may not always be feasible. These services are available to member churches and ministries regardless of whether they purchase insurance coverage through the Insurance Board. Please note that if you are currently a member church or ministry which purchases general liability insurance coverage from us, your policy provides coverage for certain expenses related to an active assailant scenario, including such items as public relations costs, counseling expenses, medical expenses, and other reasonable costs as may be determined.

These resources are designed to equip church leaders and congregations to consider, among many options, the most appropriate response(s) to employ during an active shooter/assailant scenario. Additional resources can be found by contacting the Insurance Board at (800) 437-8830, and selecting option 6 at the prompt.

With care and concern,
Timothy Harris, CPCU
President & CEO

Confronting Violence in Houses of Worship 

Patrick M. Shaw, U.S. Department of Homeland Security & Ryan Neumeyer, Attorney at Law 

Presented by Insurance Board & McDonald Hopkins

Recorded 1/9/20 

Active Shooter Pamphlet

Department of Homeland Security Active Shooter Pamphlet

How to Respond to an Active Shooter

Department of Homeland Security's, How to Respond to an Active Shooter

Confronting Violence in Houses of Worship

Worksheet provided by McDonald Hopkins 

Guide for Developing High-Quality Emergency Operations Plans for Houses of Worship

FEMA provides a format to generate an EOP for multiple possible disaster scenarios including Severe storm, earthquake, tornado, fire, hazardous materials incident and active shooter.