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You can download a sample Emergency Action Plan here

To view our complete risk management library of articles for churches and non-profits, click here.

John Keller, CRM ARM CIC AAI is Client Advisor & Risk Manager at Gulfshore Insurance specializing in non-profit and religious organizations. John works with a wide range of business clients to deliver strategic risk analysis and guidance. Comments and questions are welcome at jkeller@gulfshoreinsurance.com

Shootings, like those in Texas or California or Pennsylvania or Tennessee or Texas again or machete wielding attackers can’t be ignored.

So, what are the best steps for church leaders to protect members and guests from armed attackers?

 

Here are 4 fast steps to consider:

1.) Outsourced Private Security

Private security firms provide on-site services based on your schedule. These firms will provide armed and unarmed security and should be considered for regular services and special events. Just the presence of uniformed security acts as both reassurance and warning. Southwest Florida has some great security firms like Summit Security and Global Security Group International that are experienced in working with churches.

Outside of the obvious cost of outsourcing security, keep in mind that opting for armed third-party security may increase your liability insurance rates or preclude you from coverage from certain insurance carriers.

2.) Volunteer Security

Many churches have members with law enforcement, security, or military training, and they would gladly use those talents for the benefit of the church. While volunteers provide the backbone for all churches, it is critical that any security volunteers be properly screened and trained before making them part of the security team. Screening should include a criminal background check and training should include techniques in the use of appropriate force. Local law enforcement and security firms can be a resource for appropriate training.

A volunteer application and volunteer release forms should be used, and templates can be downloaded by following the links.

 

Quick note on Concealed Carry Firearms: The state of Florida does allow those with a concealed carry license to bring their guns to church. However, there is a HUGE caveat which I wrote about in another article “Can I Take My Gun to Church?” That caveat is whether your church also has a school (including preschool) on site. As any Conceal Carry Weapons Holder (CCWH) knows, it is a second-degree misdemeanor in Florida to carry a weapon on school grounds, even if the school is not in session and even if the school is in another building. This means that if your church has a school on site, then bringing licensed firearm to church is a no-go. If you have CCWH staff or members they may be a great backup plan but shouldn’t be relied on as a primary response, especially if there is a school on-site.

3.) Develop a Plan

A formal Emergency Action Plan can encompass not only weather and medical-related emergencies but should also include a plan of action for intruders and unruly guests. A plan does nothing on its own, so once developed, the plan should be reviewed, and employees or volunteers trained annually.

Your Emergency Action Plan should include guidelines regarding: dealing with unruly people, evacuation plans, seeking refuge, observation and detention, and lockdowns. You can download a sample Emergency Action Plan here.

4.) Control the Entrances

While there may be multiple potential entrances throughout the church facility in the form of front, rear, and side doors, the risk conscious church leaders will control the entrances. Fire code requires that attendees can exit the building through all doors, but that doesn’t mean they have to be open for entrance at any time. The best scenario is to have only one or two doors open for entrance and all doors open for exit. This allows for the security team to be concentrated at minimal entry points and used most efficiently.

To view our complete risk management library of articles for churches and non-profits, click here.

John Keller, CRM ARM CIC AAI is Client Advisor & Risk Manager at Gulfshore Insurance specializing in non-profit and religious organizations. John works with a wide range of business clients to deliver strategic risk analysis and guidance. Comments and questions are welcome at jkeller@gulfshoreinsurance.com

Yes, except…

There’s always a catch, isn’t there?

And in the case of a licensed Concealed Carry Weapon Holder (CCWH) bringing their firearm to church, there is a big catch…schools.

A CCWH in Florida is not restricted from bringing a firearm to church, but based on FL Statute 790.06, is restricted from carrying at “any school, college, or professional athletic event, not related to firearms, or any elementary or secondary school facility or administration building.” Doing so would be a second-degree misdemeanor carrying a potential $500 fine and up to 60 days in jail.

Schools would include any preschool, elementary school, middle school, junior high school, secondary school, career center, or postsecondary school, whether public or nonpublic. In the case of a church that also happens to have a preschool, elementary, middle or high school on site, then church is a no-go for the CCWH firearm.

Florida legislature has tried to amend this catch for the last few years, but the measure (SB 1238) was again defeated in 2019.

So, what are conscientious church leaders to do? The first step is to create a plan and determine whether armed security is necessary. Here is a link to another article entitled “4 Fast Steps to Protect Your Church Against Attackers” that contains an Emergency Action Plan template that churches can download and create customized plans for severe weather, medical emergencies, and unruly guests or armed intruders.

Any plan should include a security team with a combination of staff, volunteers, and outsourced security. If staff and volunteers are used, there needs to be consideration for the extent of their responsibilities, because organizing an in-house security force encroaches on Florida’s intent to regulate and license private security firms. US Law Shield put out a concise video regarding the potential issues that arise when organizing a security team in Florida churches, and it’s worth the five-minute watch.

 

To view our complete risk management library of articles for churches and non-profits, click here.

John Keller, CRM ARM CIC AAI is Client Advisor & Risk Manager at Gulfshore Insurance specializing in non-profit and religious organizations. John works with a wide range of business clients to deliver strategic risk analysis and guidance. Comments and questions are welcome at jkeller@gulfshoreinsurance.com

Slips, trips and falls represent half of all liability and workers compensation claims for churches. They come from members, guests, employees and volunteers, but most of them are preventable. With regular maintenance and good housekeeping, you can protect people from accidents and injury and prevent the church from experiencing a lawsuit or claim. Below are the main areas of concern for keeping the church safe, inside and out. Follow the link to download a sample Slip and Fall Protocol which includes an incident form.

Inside

  1. Keep the facility clean and free from open hazards. If someone trips over torn carpet, falls because the handrail came loose, or trips over an extension cord, the Church would be responsible, and our own liability policy would have to respond. So, use a checklist for regular maintenance, keep good housekeeping standards and invite your regular employees or members to bring maintenance issues to your attention.
  2. Entry ways are the most common area for slip and fall accidents. Entry mats help by keeping the area dry but should be watched so they don’t roll up and pose a trip hazard. During hurricane season it’s very important to monitor the water that gets tracked in the entry ways. Have ushers use umbrellas to walk people in and have an area or bags available for guests to use for wet umbrellas.
  3. Stairs should be well lit, free from obstacles and have sturdy handrails.
  4. Kitchens often can become wet or greasy.  Clean up spills immediately and utilize non-slip mats in front of prep stations and sinks.

Outside

  1. Uneven ground, cracks in sidewalks or parking lots and raised sidewalk seams are the most common causes of outdoor trip and falls. Any change in elevation or surfaces greater than ¼ inch can easily cause someone to trip. Monitor sidewalks for uneven seams or raised areas and have those seams ground down to a variance < ¼ inch. Cracks should be filled, and large holes repaired. Sidewalks should be swept of debris.
  2. Unmarked obstacles such as curbs, transitions, parking blocks, or tree roots are hazards.  These can be address by painting a bright color or preventative maintenance.  Tree roots and landscape beds should be well mulched or partitioned to prevent foot traffic.
  3. Inadequate lighting increases the likelihood of a trip, so maintain well-lit parking lots, sidewalks and stairways. Lighting has the additional benefit of deterring vandals and creating a welcoming atmosphere.

To view our complete risk management library of articles for churches and non-profits, click here.

John Keller, CRM ARM CIC AAI is Client Advisor & Risk Manager at Gulfshore Insurance specializing in non-profit and religious organizations. John works with a wide range of business clients to deliver strategic risk analysis and guidance. Comments and questions are welcome at jkeller@gulfshoreinsurance.com

Is your Church renting the facility? How about providing a venue, even at no cost, to community associations, clubs, or other charitable organizations? If so, there are some important steps to take to protect the Church from unexpected claims, allegations, or even lawsuits. Any time the Church facility is used by third party individuals or organizations (think weddings, Boys/Girl Scouts, home school groups, after school tutoring, etc.) we should take the following 3 steps to best protect the Church:

  1. Get a signed Facility Usage Agreement with indemnification from the person or group. This agreement acts like a mini contract which outlines who is responsible for what. Even if there is no rental fee or monetary exchange, the Usage Agreement will transfer legal responsible for acts of the renter (or their volunteers, employees and guests). This can help avoid the Church getting dragged into a claim or lawsuit for damages or injury caused by the third-party. A well-written Usage Agreement with an indemnification clause and Additional Insured status will provide the Church protection on the renter’s liability insurance and a promise to be reimbursed for any costs the Church may incur due to the third-party’s negligence. This should be non-optional, standard operating procedure. Follow the link to download a sample Usage Agreement.
  2. Get proof of minimum insurance limits from the person or group. Individuals should provide proof of liability insurance from a homeowner’s or renter’s policy with a minimum of $300,000. Businesses and organizations should provide a formal Certificate of Insurance showing evidence of General Liability coverage with a minimum limit of $1,000,000.
  3. Restrict access to other parts of the facility.  While the Usage Agreement will outline what part of the facility is available for use, the Church should take the prudent step to physical restrict access to other parts of the building or facility. Guests tend to wander, and kids can go looking for adventure, or trouble, so if possible, lock up other rooms, buildings or amenities that are not in use.  Computers, offices, classrooms, kitchens, playgrounds, and storage closets are best kept locked when third-parties are using the facility. Even though a staff member or custodian should be on site, it’s prudent to physically restrict temptation.

To view our complete risk management library of articles for churches and non-profits, click here.

John Keller, CRM ARM CIC AAI is Client Advisor & Risk Manager at Gulfshore Insurance specializing in non-profit and religious organizations. John works with a wide range of business clients to deliver strategic risk analysis and guidance. Comments and questions are welcome at jkeller@gulfshoreinsurance.com