Safe From Harm

By Sarah Gibb Millspaugh

A picture of Rev. Sarah Gibb Millspaugh

It's been more than nine years since an angry man walked into the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church with a gun and started shooting. Since then, violent attacks on people gathered—for worship, for concerts, for shopping—have only increased in frequency and severity. While our hearts fill with sympathy for the victims as well as outrage at the prevalence of gun violence, we are also recognizing that "it could happen to us." The chances are quite low, but it could happen to us. That is why many of our congregations are feeling called to review our safety policies and our procedures for dealing with active shooters.

The following resources have helped our congregations develop plans and procedures for addressing threats and violent incidents:

  • Your local police department. Often, they can do a walk-through of your building and give you guidance.
  • Church Mutual Insurance Company's ALICE Training Institute Online Tutorial. ALICE stands for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, and Evacuate. These tactics are broader than a "lockdown only" approach, and have proven effective for minimizing harm.
  • The Justice Technology Information Center's Safeguarding Houses of Worship App and resources to use "in collaborating with community leaders and first responders."
  • The Anti-Defamation League's Protecting Your Jewish Institution [PDF] is a comprehensive security guide covering not only active shooter situations, but also violent protests, threats, and surveillance by hostile groups.

As the PWR's portfolio-holder for Safe Congregations, I'm interested in hearing from congregations that have developed strong policies and procedures. I'd like to share what you've done with other congregations. And if you're from a congregation that's just getting started with this work, be in touch with your primary contact.

For more resources on how to keep your congregation safe from all types of harm, check out our Safe Congregations resources. This website is in the process of revision and update, so if you can't find what you need, just write to the team and we'll get you connected.

Rev. Sarah Gibb Millspaugh
PWR Congregational Life Staff