I’ve received several questions from various parishioners about our security measures for Sunday Mass and other large parochial gatherings.
A key safety and security feature of our church on Sundays is the vigilant presence of our ushers, four of whom (plus a ready substitute) should be trained and active at each Sunday Mass. When ushers are clearly visible and observant before and throughout Mass, this serves as a deterrent against troublemakers, and as reassurance for our congregants. All our ushers must also be Safe Environment compliant, and ready to respond appropriately to medical emergencies. If you know anyone capable of serving in this important capacity, then please encourage them to call the office to volunteer. We especially need trained and active ushers for the noon Mass (three years ago, we had no ushers at any of the Masses, just collectors for the Offertory Procession, so we’re making progress.)
Our school has a security plan, which we probably need to review with all the parish staff. There are five outdoor signs restricting access to certain outdoor areas during school hours, and these signs make it more reasonable for us to notify the police during incursions.
Our new contactless card-reader system, which will be completed when the Home Campaign reaches its pledged goal, allows us to better control access to our facilities. But this system only works if there are no mechanical keys (which can be copied and distributed) to the exterior doors floating around. Some exterior doors have already been re-keyed for this reason, so we need to resist requests to distribute the new keys, which are presently kept in a lock-box. The contactless cards should be sufficient for everyone.
Our new security cameras provide both real-time and archival security protection, and have already been used to assist police investigations.
For private events with alcohol taking place on our parish grounds, our Facilities Use Policy requires “a uniformed Tennessee Peace Officer, or a uniformed Security Guard/Officer registered with the Tennessee Department of Commerce, to be present during the entire time alcohol is served and consumed”. Apart from that, the employment of private security guards or public peace officers for parish-sponsored events is generally cost prohibitive for us. The standard fee is $25 per hour, with a four hour minimum. We have parishioners in law enforcement, but it would be unreasonable to expect them to provide security—active or passive—at all our parish events.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency does provide a “Developing High Quality Emergency Operation Plans for Houses of Worship” guide, which is worth reading. I’ve asked all parish leaders to read this guide and then share and discuss it with each other, and with active members of parish groups with which they are affiliated. I will be open to reasonable suggestions arising from such discussions.
The risk of any violence occurring on our parish grounds is low, and the risk of catastrophic violence is statistically negligible, but not impossible. So, let us be reasonably prudent in our planning and in our vigilance.
In Christ Our Peace,