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Add terrorism to your risk check

by
18 March 2016

Without creating panic, churches need to assess their security, says Maggie Durran

PA

Devastation: St Ethelburga’s, Bishopsgate, in London, after an IRA bomb in 1993

Devastation: St Ethelburga’s, Bishopsgate, in London, after an IRA bomb in 1993

THE rising number of terrorist attacks on gatherings of people brings the potential for future violence into view. Terrorism could have a direct impact on our churches.

The risk may be very low for any particular church or church gathering, but it must be there. Rather than panicking or over-reacting, some quiet analysis is in order. Then, whatever action is needed will be measured, and avoid creating fear unnecessarily.

A little fear is good for making us take appropriate action rather than being complacent. A new website, www.gov.uk/government/publications/counter-terrorism-protective-security-advice-for-places-of-worship, has been created to assist churches in taking appropriate care.

So it is time to consider terrorism alongside our other risk assessments. This could happen in a collective approach with other churches, at an event to which the churches send representatives. A counter-terrorism adviser from the police in your area could lead the discussion.

Identifying your particular risks might result in improvements of safety measures, either in the physical situation or in the safety processes you follow. Many of these items will be matters of simple good practice, added to an improved level of vigilance.

If there is a general sense of vigilance, and everyone knows, for example, that sidespeople are “looking out” during services, then everyone else can worship without worry.

 

THERE are several indicators that any church should keep an eye on. The current national level of security risk is relevant; at present, the risk level is high.

Then each church can consider whether there are any factors that might make it a target. Think in terms of your location: a church in a busy area may be more at risk, and there might be something specific to your church that might attract attention, such as numbers, or personalities who might be of interest.

Then consider whether your church is near somewhere that might be a more likely target. If it were subject to an attack, it could leave the church with collateral damage. Back in 1993, St Ethelburga’s, a small church in the City of London, was destroyed by an IRA bomb directed at a business address near by. Some neighbourhoods are high-risk because of national or regional factors, or even cultural ones.

Where possible — and a police contact can help here — work co-operatively with others who are reviewing their own risk analyses: not just churches, but businesses and cultural locations, from supermarkets to cinemas.

 

IT IS a big subject, but think how you can protect people —congregations, drop-in visitors, and your staff — to the best of your ability. There may be measures that should be taken to protect the physical asset that is your building and its contents. It is important that your information, whether electronic or paper, is well-protected and backed up. These subjects should lead you to some, albeit simple, processes for taking care.

Review your security against terrorism regularly, and since it will overlap significantly with good practice in protecting yourselves from both fire and crime, it can become part of the annual reviews considered on the archdeacon’s visitation, or presented at the AGM.

Each church can prepare its own security plan, perhaps drafted by a small group, but approved and adopted by the PCC. Among its sections will be evacuation plans. Key individuals, such as churchwardens and sidespeople, should know in which direction they are sending people if an evacuation is needed, so that they are not getting in each other’s way. Most people tend to head for the way they came in, but it may not be the nearest exit.

 

GOOD signage should tell people not to touch suspect packages; this could be a signal to declutter your church generally, as it might have corners packed with odd bags and boxes. Sidespeople should move everyone away from the risk, and prevent others’ approaching it.

Everyone should know not to use mobile phones or radio devices until they have reached a safe location, from where they can then notify the police. There is a great deal more to add to this process, but a good review, and discussions with police and other agencies or businesses, may enable you to know quickly how to set up your process.

Again, the police in your area will be the best source of information on risk. Examples might be to use simple signage to identify private, as distinct from public areas of the building, enabling staff and volunteers to identify strangers more readily; add badges for staff and volunteers on duty, and things become even clearer. The latter will help, too, if a member of the congregation or a visitor wants to get help quickly.

 

MOST of the items in the checklists for housekeeping on the government website are worth taking up. Is your rubbish too close to the building so that it could be used destructively? Are all external areas and entrances tidy and clean? Is your furniture a good hiding place for nefarious devices?

Ensure that your unused rooms and storage places are checked regularly. Seal or lock all maintenance access-points, so that only those who require access can get in. Regularly check that safety equipment is not tampered with, from the first-aid box to the fire extinguishers. And establish a basic training schedule, so that all your staff and volunteers know what to do if the worst should happen, whether a telephone bomb-threat or an emergency evacuation: preparation will reduce panic and misdirection.

Letting everyone know what is being done, and how they can play a part, will ensure a general level of alertness that will spread the responsibility, and increase the effectiveness of your security plan. Most of all, we need to establish a level of good practice on security without creating an atmosphere of fear. After all, any one of us has only an infinitesimal chance of being involved in an incident.

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