Faith leaders meet with local law enforcement to develop security plans

Looking out over the faith leaders gathered Thursday in the Evangelical Reformed United Church of Christ, Frederick County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Mark Landahl asked how many congregations had safety plans in place.

“A show of hands,” the lieutenant prompted. “Does anyone have a designated safety and security plan? No one?”

While houses of worship don’t typically come to mind when one thinks of disasters or horrific violence, a closer look at several recent events shows that churches, temples and synagogues aren’t immune. Thursday’s meeting took place a month after a gunman killed one person and injured seven others at the Burnette Chapel Church of Christ in Antioch, Tennessee, Landahl pointed out.

And shootings aren’t the only emergency worth preparing for, the lieutenant added, listing natural disasters, fires or medical emergencies as even more common occurrences.

“Do you have somebody designated who is willing to act and say, ‘I’ll be the person who will handle that,’ rather than the person leading the sermon, ‘I’ll be the one to call 911,’ or ‘I’ll meet the ambulance up front in case something happens’?” Landahl said. “Those are the types of conversations that we need to be having.”

To help with the organizing of such a plan, Landahl, the sheriff’s office’s resident expert in disaster planning, preparedness and counterterrorism, presented the Safeguarding Houses of Worship (SHOW) app developed by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Justice Technology Information Center.

Designed specifically to help faith groups organize their own security plans, the app — available for iPhones and Android devices, requires a code to activate it, which Landahl and Deputy Hal Jones were happy to hand out to interested pastors and parishioners after the meeting.

Bob Kells, a pastor at Weller United Methodist Church in Thurmont, was one of a long line of leaders who exchanged information with Jones after Thursday’s presentation.

“Just watching the news and seeing the events that are happening across the country, particularly in Las Vegas, we’ve become concerned about some of the potential threats to our congregations, so we just need to be prepared,” Kells said.

Landahl also pointed out a number of representatives from the Frederick Police Department, Hagerstown Police, the county’s Health Department and other agencies that sat in on the meeting. Aside from downloading the app, attendees were advised to sign up for the county’s email and text alert system or to consider taking advantage of CPR or drug overdose training offered by the Health Department.

Several of the topics Landahl touched on elicited immediate responses from attendees, many of whom brought up their own experiences with incidents or emergencies for which they weren’t quite prepared.

“We tried to give him a name tag, only to find out he wasn’t very interested in joining us for worship,” Kershner Daniel said.

Others took advantage of their time with the sheriff’s office and other law enforcement to ask about situations they’ve dealt with at their respective places of worship.

“That’s going to have to be a decision that your individual organization needs to make,” Landahl replied. “But the training is available through the county.”

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