Active-shooter training among ways Oklahomans prepare for crisesBY HOLLY MCCRAY
Some Oklahoma United Methodist churches invested in safety strategies months, even years, before a gunman burst into morning worship at a Texas church on Nov. 5.
Leaders at three of those churches spoke about procedures put into place and suggested proactive steps for others. Watchfulness before, during, and after an activity is paramount, they all emphasized.
That assault killed 26 people at a Baptist church in Sutherland Springs, population about 600, near San Antonio. Some of the dozens of people injured remain hospitalized.
Safety for children
At Tulsa-Boston Avenue UMC, EvaMarie Campbell’s job portfolio includes security matters particularly because she is the minister to elementary-school children. The large church provides extensive children’s programming.
Three years ago, Boston Avenue “realized families have expectations of a level of security for their children,” said Rev. Campbell, an associate pastor.
The Security Council was established. Its members have law enforcement and medical experience, among other gifts. They mapped out a plan, looked at building modifications, and got training for active shooter scenarios. They shared information with Sunday School classes. Professionals patrol the campus at times.
Backpacks and duffel bags are stored while people attend the downtown church.
“Some people go to Boston Avenue and their life possessions are in that bag, but they can still be with us and secure their backpacks,” said the associate pastor.
She said more than 80 “security ministry volunteers” have received training. They know “now that you’re trained, whenever you’re here, be aware.”
Campbell said “assertive hospitality” is practiced at Boston Avenue.
“We’re not becoming a fortress. We’re not going to let fear stop us from doing what we need to be doing, being welcoming.”
Police offer intense class
In Summer 2017, officers of Claremore’s police department presented an active-shooter training program to about 40 staff and select volunteers at Claremore-First UMC. Brent Youngs called it intense.
He is the church’s executive director.
In a crisis involving gun violence, “the best thing to do is get out — with intelligence,” he said.
That training “also gave us a lot of common-sense things, and we have put some into place,” such as the location of welcome centers and stocking wasp spray, which “will shoot out 25 feet,” rather than pepper spray.
Yet he noted there are “hundreds of thousands of churches in worship that had no incident. You don’t want to create an atmophere of hysteria. You want to give people a confidence that this is a safe place to come.”
A week after the attack in Texas, safety at the Claremore church’s campuses was discussed as people gathered for each worship service. “I had very positive comments and actually some thank-yous from the congregation,” Youngs said.
“The media is making us nervous about coming to church,” an elderly woman said.
Youngs said, “We want to give people more peace about things. It’s mostly about hospitality, but we are going to keep our eyes open. We are going to lock some doors, and we gave people notice.”
First UMC has an emergency response team equipped for several scenarios, not only gun violence but also a tornado or flooding, he said. Engaging people, questioning strangers in the parking lot and halls, has been practiced for three years, primarily because of the preschool on site.
Safety volunteers recruited
In Oklahoma City, retired clergyman Gary Graham directs “safety volunteers” at OKC-New Hope. Law enforcement service by his family members dates back to the beginning of the 20th century. His great-great-great-grandfather was a law officer in Indian Territory, Rev. Graham said.
Graham himself is an advanced certified peace officer for the state. At one parish during his ministry career, he also was the town’s deputy sheriff.
“I’m really saddened” about the Sutherland Springs attack, he said.
Graham said New Hope UMC enacted more security measures after a 2015 church shooting in Charleston, South Carolina, when nine people died.
The church’s safety volunteers learn how to use firearms and how to disable a person wielding one, he said.
If gun violence erupts, people must not be so frightened that they freeze in place, Graham said. “I want everyone to grab a hymnal or Bible and throw it at that person.”
He said, “You can generally tell someone’s upset by their demeanor. I teach my people to go up and say, ‘Is there anything I can do to help you?’ My people are trained to listen.” That can help defuse anger.
He and Senior Pastor J.D. Ward made the same statement about a pastor as shepherd: “I’m responsibile to protect those sheep.”
“Talk about it in advance,” said Rev. Ward. “It’s not about being scared; it’s being prepared.”
This concludes a two-part story series. Read the first story at www.okumc.org/newsdetail/church-security-questions-rise-after-shooting-at-small-church-10082126