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The current protocol is "RUN or HIDE or FIGHT."

Remember, put your hands up when you come in contact with the security staff and responders.

=>RUN: Away from the incident, to safety and/or back home only if it is safe to do so.

=>HIDE: When you hide, you are "buying-time," waiting for police, SWAT, and other responders to secure your location. They will attempt to evacuate you when they find you. Turn your cell phone to quiet mode, and only text (don't talk) or you may give away your location to the shooter.

=>FIGHT: This is a last resort to survive (only in the event that the shooter finds you).



(Example educational institutions that have suffered active shooter incidents)

1999 Columbine High School

2007 Virginia Tech

2008 Northern Illinois University

2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School

2016 Ohio State University (attacker chose to ram pedestrians with a vehicle, then attack them with a knife)



This is a beginner discussion of the Emergency Operation Plans and Mitigation strategies applicable to religious schools or institutions with emphasis on gun violence scenarios. We aim to engage the communities of faith about gun violence, and specifically the active shooter scenario. This is an overview closely mirroring official guidelines, (not all inclusive) but useful to provide support information, discuss barriers, provide conceptual ideas and official resources on the topic.



Gun violence at religious schools and institutions raises some challenging questions whereby the prevention, reaction, and response are handled much differently than any other hazard. Most experts recommend the creation of a procedure to handle the Active Shooter scenario called “An Active Shooter Annex” which is a specific plan that supersedes all other general Emergency Functions and is tailored to preserve life and avoid any collateral damages related to this specific threat. It is critical that Law Enforcement receives a copy of your Emergency Plan and store it on their secure computers so they can react quickly and with continuity to said plan.



An unfortunate reality we must all come to terms with is that violence is pervasive in our society, and the FBI statistical reports stated:

1. The average number of Workplace victimization events in the U.S. each year is=> 1,744,300 incidents annually.

2. In the U.S. there are (e.g. year 2012)=> 115 CHURCH SHOOTINGS annually.

3. In the U.S. the annual incidence of school (FIREARM+EXPLOSIVE) events (in e.g. 2008) was 7,990 cases.



Two examples below of (recent Religious Community Shootings), demonstrait that anyone with a mental condition or gruge or alternative ideology, may do anything at any moment:

=> In 2012, six people were killed and four injured in a shooting at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin.

=> In 2008, two people were killed and seven wounded at a Unitarian Church in Knoxville, Tennessee.



"Developing High-Quality School Emergency Operations Plan"

"Guide for Developing High-Quality Emergency Operations Plans for Houses of Worship"



Some religious institutions (at this moment) are prepared and some are not. Indeed at the heart of the issue is THE RECOGNITION AND UNDERSTANDING OF THE SITUATION, THREATS, HAZARDS, AND CAPABILITIES AS FOLLOWS:

1. IDENTIFY: The ability to Identify warning signs of the presence of hazards and malfeasance in the real world and accept the past evidence that exemplifies the potential for danger to inevitably splash over into a Place of Worship. A preliminary assessment of YOUR local threats can be obtain as a copy of a local risk assessments from YOUR local authorities, and you can combine this information into your own evaluation using the official FEMA CPG201 THIRA process). Link to THIRA guide is here:


2. ACKNOWLEDGE: Acknowledge that the purpose of creating an EOP is to prevent, protect and mitigate the impacts of all hazards on life or property. Understand that uniform terminology, communications, and protocols are vital to the functioning of your staff with the congregation and first responders. Prioritizing threats and commitment to vigilant planning of contingencies, including (e.g. drills and kits), this is necessary to be “Survivor Centric” and to optimize the outcome of an incident. Detailed official FEMA information on Developing and Maintaining an EOP (CPG 101) is here:


3. TAKE ACTION: Action must be initiated through a defined command structure with staff capabilities (being contingent upon the knowledge, thoroughness, and adaptive abilities) of the institutions leaders who assess all of their “THREATS AND HAZARDS.” Knowing how to work with Law Enforcement, Fire, and EMS through these processes will enhance the outcome. Threat analysis processes are detailed within these guides here:



4. CONTACT YOUR OFFICIAL PARTNERS: DHS, FEMA and other agencies recognize and understand the factors involved in you EOP planning and implementation and much more, therefore, with the desire to assist places of worship they developed a very important resource and guide for all places of worship called:

(the “preventing violent acts” section, pages 23-31) covers gun violence. You can get your official copy here (location mirror-2):

Also see the DHS Center for Faith-based & Neighborhood Partnerships (they host workshops with this guide) here:



(How to fend-off an active shooter scenario)

Not only are the demographics of places of worship highly comprised of children, disabled, and elderly, but the following commandment is important and relevant as well. Consider the following:

“The Holy Bible,” 2.1 Billion people called Christians, “The Ten Commandments”

=>Commandment #6: “Thou shalt not kill.” AKA “You will not Murder.” Is very important, so much so, that it is repeated 219 times, and is held with great reverence and part of the law in almost every corner of the planet. Among the thousands of religious schools and institutions in the U.S. are currently 8,146 Catholic schools with 2,647,301 Catholic students. I’ve devised the following mental primer with dificult questions to exemplify the unfortunate but critical and crutial thinking that houses of worship must undertake to ensure their people are safe through the use of Emergency Operations Plans that contain contingencies for (the bad deeds we know happen every day and the rare dangerous situations we don’t always want to think about).



As an important mental primer, please consider the following information about what to expect and rhetorical questions to get your staffs Threat Analysis thought processes flowing. During an active shooter situation, innate human reactions will occur such as being startled, fear and anxiety, and initial disbelief and denial usually occur. Atypical processes and responses rapidly fill the room such as noise from alarms, gunfire, explosions, and people panicking, shouting and screaming should be expected. Responses to expect…We all know that there are three basic response options: run, hide, or fight …exploring these 3 options for a best outcome, please consider the following:

QUESTION-1: What protective measures are available to the staff at the Religious Facility to fend against an active shooter scenario?



QUESTION-2: What measures have clergy agreed upon, that they are willing to take, to survive and/or protect others during an active shooter scenario?



QUESTION-3: If having a gun, or a knife, or a club at the institution was an option who would we give it to at e.g. a Catholic School?


A. To the Deacons

B. To the Priests

C. To the Bishop

D. None of the above


QUESTION-4: Which body part would the Deacons, or the Priests, or the Bishop be willing to launch an assult at (e.g. shoot the gun at), to stop the School Shooter?



QUESTION-5: How will the e.g. Bishop proceed if the shooter holds a student for ransom money, straps a bomb on them, and has other demands, but has not harmed anyone?

OPTIONS CONSIDERED: (no good option)

=> an eye for an eye would be out of the question because no one is injured yet.

=> and no one in the school has the ransom money.

=> the U.S. judicial system definitely will not make special provisions for clergy escalation.



YOUR RESPONSE TO EACH OF THESE QUESTIONS IS LIKELY TO (NO OR NONE OF THE ABOVE, THIS IS A RELIGIOUS FACILITY!)… and you would be correct, YOU ARE NOT EXPECTED TO DO THE JOB OF LAW ENFORCEMENT. However, there are things you can do to enhance your outcome, and you are expected to attempt to evaluate and implement some known “best practices” including the implementation of an Emergency Operations Plans (EOP). I’ve asked you these very stark and difficult questions only because I care enough to ask them, and I know most agencies dare not, but are hopeful that you will ask them among yourselves in private conference.

=> Asking these questions without an EOP elicits discomfort and panic

=> However you will find that when a plan is in place, the mind does not focus on the emotional response or panic when asked these questions, but instead focuses on rapidly initiating the protective actions of the EOP to mitigate the problem.

The FEMA (EOP) for Houses of Worship guide (mentioned above) implies indirectly that you should consider many Hypothetical Scenarios and questions of this nature as potential realities and (to plan for ALL Emergency Scenarios) as best as you can. Everyone knows a place of worship is a refuge and sacred, therefore, none of the suggestions listed by myself or any agency would ever involve the use of guns at your building, nor calls for clergy to ASSUME THE ROLES OF SWAT, LAW ENFORCEMENT, or EMS. However, first response education such as First Aid and CPR training are options worth exploring. The EOP will guide all staff in their roles, training and education, as well as enhance the resilience of your Place of Worship, and align your facility with authorities who will handle the rest.



(The following are important beginning points to consider when creating an EOP)

1. LAWS: Know your community and the local, state and national legislature pertaining to your Emergency Procedures or Protocols and related to the contingencies your staff are going to incorporate into your Emergency Operations Plan. You can expect state plans to include Prevention, Protection, and Mitigation, phases before an incident; Response phase during the incident, and Recovery phase after an incident.


2. PRE-EXISTING PLANS: Inquire what other places and schools of worship are doing, and why. One option is to incorporate another local house of worship in your communications and meet-up point plans (emulation).


3. PERSONNEL: Designate a Council or Commission to develop your plan. They must be reliable, understand, and accept their roles. Be sure to include input from your LEPC and FEMA resources. If members of your congregation are first responders consider asking them to join the planning team. Insure that the team members can meet regularly on a schedule. Ensure that everyone knows that at the outset of an Active Shooter scenario, the staff must be aggressive, and (e.g. yell a code word or “active shooter,” and tell everyone to “get down”, or out, or “to the shelter!”) Then alert 911 to respond.


4. FACILITY NEEDS AND ATTRIBUTES: (create the Functional Annex) Create a table or Excel spread sheet containing an assessment of the facility and congregation needs, noting special internal and external risk factors such as emergency vehicles, assess capabilities and structural issues (see the FEMA Places of Worship guide above for categories and details). Note in your spreadsheet the available resources, safety equipment as well as a list of things to purchase such as fire safety equipment, first aid kit, or AED devices. Note in your spreadsheet innate facility protective factors as well as areas that could become a problem and (require improvement). Make a list of the security measures the staff would like to implement including door locks, cameras, alarms, and designating safety zones. Insure all settings, times, and types of people are factored into the plan including functional needs during onsite and offsite activities. Then create a procedure for how you will manage these functional aspects of the facility while in crisis (e.g. protocols for lockdown, shelter in place, tornado, fire, evacuation, recovery, security are basic elements of most plans).


5. GOALS, OBJECTIVES, AND STRATEGIES PER HAZARD: Once all suggested facility requirements are discovered, list the desired outcome or protocol for each event and how you will achieve it. A minimum of 3 objectives for each requirement goal is a rule of thumb as well as defining the threshold for successful completion of the requirement goal. Definitions and feasible functional roles per hazard correspond to (how and when courses of action) can be taken to achieve objectives for a hazard and will be contained in an (All-Hazard protocols and procedures Annex section). The Hazard Annex will also contain a formatted plan with (e.g. Scenario, time to respond, decision points-with course of action per decision point, dependencies, and delegated to staff-when-why-how-with what resources). Additionally, the Threat Analysis Annex could contain workplace violence contingencies such as Active Shooter protocols. There is detailed information about this process here:


6. FORMATION OF THE EMERGENCY OPERATIONS PLAN (EOP): The framework and methods for implementing a preliminary plan are developed and formalize into a functional facility-wide procedure manual accounting for all facility and personnel attributes, resources, hazards, goals, objectives, functional protocols with courses of action, as well as training, and educational content to be adopted by all staff as their Emergency Operations Plan. The plan will be reviewed by all stakeholders, and agreed upon as the current best practices for the given facility. The plan must comply with all relevant laws and reflect the capabilities of facility staff and local first responders. (Example EOP formatting is available as a table on page 16 of the above Place of Worship EOP guide and discussed in detail thereafter)


7. IMPLEMENTATION & THE PILOT PROGRAM: During the implementation phase, test the course of action protocols with staff only and review the outcome. If approved, test it on the broader population to ensure the goals and objectives are met and desired outcomes are still plausible. Training and exercises will ensure all staff members know how to empty the building, or go to a shelter, if violence or other hazards occur, and (be sure to “time it”). Determining how long it takes to empty everyone out or to get to a shelter point is a critical step to gauge the feasibility of the (Emergency Exits portion of the Plan). Note any changes necessary to optimize the (EOP). Continuous exercises and refinement of the plan are expected for enduring viability and as staff and circumstances change.


8. DOCUMENTATION, ACCESSIBILITY AND AWARENESS: I recommend to my clients a Diagrammatic layout (or blueprint) be obtained and included (with labeled key locations and resources) pertinent to areas or elements of the EOP. Once the EOP is deemed fully functional, it is time to make binders with paper copies accessible to staff at a moments notice (this is important for rapid access and utilization in an event e.g. a power outage scenario). Announcements and exercises or drills will raise awareness, increase the speed that staff orient and observe the problem then act, as well as, bolster vigilance when the incident occurs. The finalized EOP should be submitted to the Local Emergency Managers, the local designated Emergency Operations Center, LEPC constituents or other stakeholders. Also don’t forget, your facility could consider sharing their EOP with other nearby Places of Worship.


9. MAINTENANCE: The EOP must be updated and reposted or resubmitted periodically. A record must be kept of the date of last review of the document, date of last EOP updates, and dates it was transmitted to which staff and agencies. Be sure to schedule periodic brief presentations to raise awareness, and periodic exercises or drills to ensure course of action functional competency per given scenario (e.g. bomb threat or intruder with a gun).



The FEMA EOP guide contains suggestions to all major types of emergencies. Human violence is always a concern, therefore, churches should not ignore the Active Shooter section of the guide and should plan for various types of threats that could pertain to the facility. The suggestions within the guide may be adapted and applied to almost any size facility or group gathering. Experts agree that in scenarios whereby you can safely run outside and far away, (doing so), usually offers the best chances of survival. Below are other example contingencies and scenarios to consider:

1. The FBI created some Active Shooter Profile information to help facilities to identify signs that an active shooter scenario may unfold here:


2. The active shooter Scenario can get really complicated quick, barriers, and capabilities for a variety of Hypothetical scenarios are discussed and mitigation via Alarm System versus Armed Security Guard information is posted here:

Also, please see this interesting article about the use of Trained Dogs at Schools here:


3. In an active shooter scenario, evacuation may be a critical life saving strategy, but the primary route to evacuate may be blocked, therefore in the Active Shooter Annex, a secondary evacuation route must be planned (e.g. all who are able can escape through a window, those who are disabled will be escorted to the back door when the path is clear). Strategies are discuss here:


4. If there is no secondary exit due to the given circumstances, then shelter in place in a room that has heavy concrete walls and steal doors, heavy locks, and available items to brace the door, may provide the much needed safety until Law Enforcement personnel arrive. Additionally, all individuals should get low to the ground, turn off the lights, be quiet, put phones on vibrate. Prior to an incident, staff should supplement the designated “shelter in place room” with communication devices and alert systems if possible to ensure everyone in the building knows there is danger, alert law enforcement of your position, and be ready for instructions. A mirror is always a good device to signal your location outside to law enforcement. A discussion has begun about this matter here:

FEMA Design Guidance for Shelters and Safe Rooms:

READY.GOV shelter-in place:

OSHA Shelter in Place:

Oak Ridge National Laboratory Planning Protective Action Decision Making: Evacuate or Shelter in Place:

CDC Learn How to Shelter in Place:


5. How to signal that there is an active shooter crisis taking place, so that everyone can actively implement the safety protocol, and First Responders can be alerted as well. In the past, facilities have called 911, used a “Panic Button,” used a code word, flashed the lights, sent bulk text messages, and there is the potential for utilizing a remote transmitter (like “First Alert”) as well. I created an entire post that discusses several Alert Systems here:


6. INTERVENTIONS CAN PREVENT ESCALATIONS: There is a good chance that your Local FBI Field Office will be happy to help in the threat assessment process and characterize initial courses of action that will enable your staff to most effectively respond to an active shooter scenario to minimize loss of life. Further information is located here:


7. DUTY TO HELP: It is not the duty of staff to save everyone, however, if you manage to escape outside, it is your duty to tell Law Enforcement where to find the people trapped inside. Additionally, once the scenario is brought to conclusion, the wounded will need help, and the investigation will begin. A list of congregation members and points of contact may need to be submitted during the recovery phase.


8. WORST CASE SCENARIOS: There are endless bad scenarios, however, I must mention that if you can not run or hide, then you will need to discuss how you will incapacitate the intruder to save lives. Additionally, if you witness someone’s death in the course of the crisis, be very careful who you tell (the release of this information can re-escalate and/or create additional bad situations).



=>RULE#1: Do NOT interfere with an officer’s pursuit of the active shooter (ONE THIRD of officers that must engage a shooter GET SHOT).

=>RULE#2: Be ready to rapidly respond to their the responders instructions (e.g. hands palms up, get to the ground, or run out to safety).

=>RULE#3: Knowledge and training increase your chances of survival. Some effective measures Law Enforcement will undertake during the scenario may be studied here:



As FEMA quite correctly put it: “As a situation develops, it is possible that congregants and staff will need to use more than one option. During an active shooter situation, these individuals will rarely have all of the information they need to make a fully informed decision about which option is best. While they should follow the plan and any instructions given during an incident, they will often have to rely on their own judgment to decide which option will best protect lives.” Therefore, do your best, that is all anyone can expect!





Much more in-depth information is contained within the official Place of worship planning guide (link above), FEMA’s summary of the guide is as follows: “The guide provides recommendations in the development of plans not only to respond to an emergency, but also outline how organizations can plan for preventing, protecting against, mitigating the impact of and recovering from these emergencies. The guide translates lessons learned from the Administration’s work on national preparedness to the school, IHE, and house of worship contexts, ensuring that these critical assets are benefiting from recent advancements in the emergency planning field. The guide introduces houses of worship to a new approach to planning, that includes walking through different emergency scenarios to create a course of action for each objective the team is trying to accomplish. The guide emphasizes that successful planning requires all stakeholders be engaged in the planning process from the start – including community partners such as local law enforcement, fire officials, EMS and emergency management staff.”




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