Traditionally a place of sanctuary, reflection, peace, and safety, houses of worship have seen an increase in threats and violence in recent years. High-profile attacks at churches, synagogues, and mosques show that these places of worship are not immune from violence and religious leaders and congregants are concerned. Most are increasing security and rethinking entry to ensure their religious communities feel safe and secure.
What was once considered a safe haven must now prepare for unthinkable emergency situations. It was once rare to see armed security and police officers outside or within mosques, churches, or synagogues. Now, religious leaders understand that places of worship are “soft targets” and must address the task of keeping everyone in their care informed and educated for different emergency Scenarios.
Ensuring your security plan reaches every member of your organization, as well as visitors, is a top priority that cannot be ignored. What makes a house of worship unique is the transient population that comes for service, events, or meetings. An emergency notification system, that works harmoniously with your emergency action and response plan, can be an efficient crisis communications solution that allows you to reach everyone - regardless if you have them in your recipient list or not.
Using an emergency notification system as a means of communication allows the use of automation within your organization. It allows you to prepare all of your messages and alerts before an emergency happens, ensuring you’re prepared to inform your people for any emergency situation - through multiple modes.
There are quite a few different resources out there for houses of worship to follow when it comes to preparing for crisis communications, but here are 4 best practices that can help you to better use your emergency notification system as well as better prepare your people.
- 1. Redundancy - These spaces of solitude are no place for continued cell phone use. Therefore, in an emergency situation your people will most likely not see the emergency text message you sent them and they won’t answer the voice call with the message about the emergency. This has many of us asking the question “How can I alert my constituents of an emergency?” In cases like these where you don’t have access to a cell phone, or even a landline, you must use other methods of redundancy to ensure you reach every member of your organization - from your congregation, to your child center, and classrooms.
- Core methods of communication could be:
- - Integrate your fire alarm system with your emergency notification system. Using this method ensures that everyone throughout your facility will hear the alarm.
- - Taking over digital signage with an emergency alert throughout your facility ensures a large group of people will see the alert.
- - Having the ability to integrate with security locking systems.
- - Define a core group of congregates to have their mobile phones in hand and responsible for activating notification, lock- down, and guidance.
- 2. Core Group of People - Safety Committee - This group would be a trusted group of people to sit on the safety committee. Each individual should be aware of how alerts are to be sent and what actions and procedures are to be followed when a specific event happens. They should be very comfortable with the emergency response and action plans for the organization. The benefit of having this group is that not one sole person, such as the worship leader, has the full responsibility of safety. This can be distributed amongst the Safety Committee to ensure information is shared and that the group understands what to do for any situation.
- 3. MOUs with Local Authorities and EMS - An MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) describes the responsibilities of parties - both the organization and the police & EMS - in carrying out an activity or process of interest. Documenting local first responder involvement in your organization’s emergency planning, exercise, response, and recovery efforts. The main reason why organizations develop an MOU is to create a collaboration between both parties to ensure they both have a full understanding of the scope of events and actions necessary to protect and respond to emergencies. This sets the foundation for improved coordination and response time when an incident occurs.
- 4. Host exercises and spread awareness throughout your congregation - It’s important to inform your members and visitors of your plans, not only to ensure they’re in your subscriber list to receive your emergency alerts, but also to show them that you have a plan for emergency situations. Many organizations place signage throughout the venue for posting of key or critical information. Testing the ability of your emergency notification system and your safety team - as well as your congregation - to effectively act and respond to an emergency situation is important. You’re not just measuring how fast the word gets out, you are also making sure that the people recognize what the siren, notification, or alert means - and are prepared to take the appropriate action.
To find more resources and tools for protecting your house of worship visit the Faith Resources Section of the FEMA Website.