Article Written by Holly Gilbert Stowell for Security Management Magazine
Christ Community Church (CCC) in St. Charles, Illinois, about 45 miles west of Chicago, doesn’t just open its doors in time for Sunday morning services. Thousands of people traverse its campus each week to participate in a variety of activities. “There’s always something going on here,” says Bryan Ferguson, safety and security manager at CCC.
That open environment makes providing security a challenge, says Ferguson. On any given Sunday, anywhere from 3,000 to 4,000 people may be in attendance at CCC services. In addition, Ferguson heads up security at three other campuses where live video streams of the CCC service are broadcast. An additional 4,000 to 5,000 congregants attend those simulcast services.Recently, during a ladies' group meeting at church, some of the women noticed a stranger wandering around the building. After that incident, the church made the decision to seal off some of the external doors on the main campus. Of the church's approximately 22 doors, about one-third of them are open during church services on Sunday. Only two remain open during regular business hours. If there is a special meeting, someone from the facilities department goes into the church's software that controls the locking mechanisms on the doors and remotely sets the schedule for more doors to be open.
Despite the incident with the stranger, CCC has never experienced any major security events. “We’ve had some troubled people who have caused incidents, and we’ve had the normal domestic type incidents, husband and wife arguing, stuff like that–but fortunately nothing to the extent of an active shooter,” Ferguson notes.Still, Ferguson is always looking for ways to better protect the church and its people, especially from an active shooter threat. Ferguson, who recently retired after two decades in law enforcement, says the active shooter threat is a bigger reality than ever for churches. "Obviously [the active shooter threat] has become the forefront of everyone's attention," notes Ferguson, who adds that all the church's employees have undergone active shooter training.
Ferguson saw an opportunity to address this threat when he was approached by John McNutt, founder of BluePoint Alert Technologies, in January 2015 about its alert system at CCC. The BluePoint system operates like a fire alarm and notifies law enforcement of emergencies.BluePoint was so appealing, Ferguson says, because it cuts down on the time it takes to inform law enforcement if an active shooter is in the building.
The pull stations are small blue boxes mounted on the wall that look like fire alarms with a clear hard plastic covering. Anyone can lift the casing to pull the lever. In the event a station is pulled, a call automatically goes to law enforcement dispatch. The system communicates over commercial-grade wireless communication technology and equipment to ensure the call doesn’t fail.CCC put in 16 pull stations, strategically locating them throughout the church. "We tried to put them wherever the largest congregation of people were going to be, and then general throughways, intersections of hallways, especially by main doors," Ferguson notes.
Ferguson made the decision to use BluePoint only in the event of an active shooter. “If you pull the pull station, there’s an [automated voice] alarm that goes off on campus that says we’re in a lockdown situation,” Ferguson explains. The message goes out over the public address system and informs everyone of lockdown procedures. “If they hear that, I want everyone to know it is…an active shooter.”
Ferguson says he piggybacked on what the local schools had done, which was input the e-mails and cell phone numbers of the first line supervisors from the sheriff’s office into to the system so that law enforcement automatically receives updates when an incident occurs. “They’ll get all of it first, and that will also improve the response time,” he adds. Ferguson says he keeps in close contact with the sheriff’s office, with updates on a weekly basis.
CCC’s security strategy stretches beyond the BluePoint technology. Ferguson heads up the church’s volunteer safety team, which is made up of approximately 30 people. Between six and eight of those members normally canvass the church on Sunday mornings. Because these volunteers typically receive their only security training from the church, “they’re supposed to be the eyes and ears,” says Ferguson, “not really react if something happens.” That job is left to Ferguson and a few others who have law enforcement training. While on duty, team members wear headsets and have portable radios for ease of communication.
The church also has a pastor protection team made up of either off-duty or retired law enforcement that guards the lead pastor on Sundays, says Ferguson. That team is also available to travel with a pastor if there are any safety concerns about a trip itself, though he says deploying that team has not been necessary in recent years.
The safety team is signed up for text message and e-mail alerts generated by BluePoint. Ferguson controls this through his administrative account on the BluePoint Web portal. Ferguson decided not to reserve the text and e-mail alerts only for active shooter events, electing to send them out during other incidents including severe weather, medical emergencies, or a missing child. Signing in with a username and password, Ferguson can clear alarms in the system, add more people to the mass notification list, and customize incident automated messages.The church wants to allow everyone in the congregation to sign up for the mass notification alerts. "We would put up a link or a spot on our website, or our church's mobile app, to allow them to sign up themselves, but that's not implemented yet," says Ferguson. He says he hopes the sign-up process will be underway by the summer of 2016.
The congregation has been informed about the technology through various announcements and word of mouth, and attendees have responded positively. "Everyone's been extremely happy that we're taking proactive measures to keep them safe," says Ferguson. He adds that events like the shooting in Charleston only highlighted the difficulties of protecting a church, making BluePoint an obvious choice for them.
"Unfortunately security is one of those things that people really don't put a lot of emphasis on until after the fact," he says. "Everybody is vulnerable to active shooters, and if you can cut down the response time by even a minute, that's countless lives that you could be saving." For more information: email email@example.com or call 888.258.3706 x701.
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