Active shooter training available from JCSO | News
Attacks on places of worship have become more frequent in recent years, but local faith leaders can do something to learn how to protect their parishioners.
The Department of Homeland Security’s 2020 report, “Mitigating Attacks on Houses of Worship ‒ Security Guide” investigated recent trends.
“Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) observed a significant increase in targeted violence incidents in 2012 and a noticeable increase in the number of incidents between 2015 and 2019,” DHS said.
Due to the trend, the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office is offering free programs designed to help congregations learn how to secure their facilities.
“Our program was developed to coincide with the training of Civilian Response to Active Fire Events, CRASE,” said Sheriff Chip Hall. “Entities may wish to participate based on situations that have occurred internally at their site or based on events that have occurred elsewhere. Although no hostage-taking has occurred locally like in other parts of the country, almost every church that has requested the training before has had an event (or) internal event that caused them to be on high alert. additional for a potential threat.
Classes are taught by Sgt. Johnny Hollifield, a CRASE Certified Instructor. The information is tailored to the needs of houses of worship. Sessions last between one and a half and two hours.
The courses are designed to give religious leaders awareness, advice, information and strategies on how to respond if they find themselves “facing an active threat”, Hall said.
Topics include how to choose a security team, how to identify areas of the facility that might be vulnerable, and where to find security equipment such as defibrillators or fire extinguishers.
The program allows the institution to develop its own security plan.
“Benefits of training include situational awareness, high-stress coping mechanisms, proper planning, and potential responses to a variety of security-related events,” Hall said. “The training not only targets active threats to churches, but also covers general security measures that can be put in place regarding theft, vandalism and other property crimes.”
Experts agree that the very nature of churches, mosques, synagogues and other places of worship makes them vulnerable to such attacks. Places of worship are open to members of their congregations for education, social gatherings, and worship; and they welcome strangers among them.
In at least two attacks on holy sites, the congregation has welcomed the attacker with open arms.
In the most recent, on January 15, Malik Faisal Akram, 44, was admitted to the Congregation Beth Israel Synagogue in Colleyville, Texas. Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker thought the man who knocked on the door was homeless and needed to get inside to get out of the cold. Cytron-Walker even made him some tea. Akram then pulled out a gun during the prayer taking four people hostage.
The hostages escaped and Akram was later killed by authorities. Cytron-Walker credited programs like JCSO’s CRASE courses with helping him and others react to and evade the shooter, ultimately saving their lives.
During the June 2015 massacre at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, the congregation welcomed gunman Dylann Roof into their Bible study group, even praying with him. This open door policy cost the lives of nine members of the congregation.
The training addresses issues such as maintaining a welcoming atmosphere and creating tighter security measures, Hall said.
Local requests for courses tend to increase following national incidents, he said.
The CSIA investigated 37 such incidents which resulted in 64 deaths and 59 injuries. Fifty-four percent of these attacks involved weapons, including guns, knives or other “edge weapons” or vehicles. Five attacks met the criteria for mass shootings.
The reasons are not always international terrorism.
“CISA determined that 67% of attacks were motivated by hatred of a particular racial or religious identity, and 22% were related to a domestic conflict or personal crisis,” the DHS report said. “The motivation of the remaining 11% is unknown. Of the 36 known perpetrators of these incidents, 58% engaged in some form of planning behavior indicating their intent to carry out an attack.
Regardless of the type of attack or the motive, the best way to protect yourself in any potential situation is to be aware of what is going on around you and be prepared to act.
“You have three options – run, hide or fight,” Hall said. “Those are the three rules to remember. It’s based on the individual and the event at the moment. Wherever you are, whether you’re in church, at a doctor’s office, out shopping, or at the Sylva Herald office on Main Street, it’s always good to be aware of your surroundings.
If you think someone might be a threat or have information about a possible attack, contact local authorities, call 911, or call Crime Stoppers at 631-1125.