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How to prepare for the worst

05 August 2016

Terrorist attacks on churches are unlikely, but preventative action is still vital, says Nick Tolson


On guard: a French policeman keeps watch on Thursday of last week outside the church in Rouen where Fr Jacques Hamel was murdered

On guard: a French policeman keeps watch on Thursday of last week outside the church in Rouen where Fr Jacques Hamel was murdered

IF YOU are responsible for some aspect of security of your church, perhaps as a churchwarden, a PCC member, or one the clergy, when you heard about the attack by terrorists on the church in Rouen last week, maybe a picture flashed through your mind about some­thing similar happening in your church (News, 29 July).

If it did, it might have been sent quickly to the part of your mind that is labelled “Too horrible to think about”, or “Very unlikely to happen here”. All the other pressing things that you need to deal with probably soon took up your time.

The risk of terrorists’ attacking a church in the UK is low; the police say that there are no indications that a church will be attacked. Despite this, however, churches need to think about the worst, and they need to take action to reduce the risk even further (Comment, 18 March).

Any security measures that you put in place to reduce the risk of terrorism will also have a substantial effect on other types of crime in your church. The reality is that there is a far greater risk that someone who is drunk or disturbed will come in and assault a church worker than that a terrorist will do something similar, or worse.

The most common crimes in churches are criminal damage and theft, followed by public-order of­­fences and assaults. Advice is evolv­ing as particular threats are ident­i­fied, and new techniques are dev­eloped to combat this latest surge of terrorist violence in Europe (News, 29 July).


THERE are some security measures that you need to introduce to your church right now.

Have only one entrance where people can enter and leave the build­ing before, during, and after each service. Ensure that the door is able to be slammed shut, should someone approach with obvious criminal intent (such as carrying a knife or other weapon). Make sure that when the door is slammed shut, it can be immediately and strongly secured without the need of a key (i.e. a strong bolt or Yale-type lock).

Other doors should be able to be opened from the inside, and be used as escape routes, should people need to evacuate the church. Consider an audible alarm being fitted to these doors, so that if one is opened unexpectedly, it will alert people inside the church.

Always have someone on the door of your church to welcome people into the building during each service who can close the front door in an emergency. Make sure that someone is standing by the door before, during, and after the service, while the congregation is present. Make sure that this person knows what to do once they have closed the door (for example, alerting the police and the church leaders that there is an immediate risk at the door).

Put good-quality CCTV in your church to cover both inside and outside the entrance. CCTV is an essential tool for the police when trying to trace offenders. It is much more reliable than a human witness, and is simple to use. A couple of cameras and a recording device can cost less than £200.

One example of evolving advice is about how to get to a safe place when an incident is developing. The best place to go when a serious incident occurs, especially when it involves firearms or a knife, is as far away from the offender as possible. This means getting people away immediately from the vicinity of the offender. Do not wait for other people who are nearer: get out, and run to a safe place. If you can, help those who might need assistance.

Remember that the offender may be walking or driving around attacking people. Get off the street; get into another building; call the police, and wait for them to arrive. If you are sure that the offender is coming nearer to you, then run again, and repeat this until you are sure that you are safe.


AS PART of the Government’s com­­mitment to improving security, it has introduced a new scheme whereby all places of worship can apply for money to improve the physical security of the building. A total of £2.4 million has been allocated to help with the instal­lation of measures such as CCTV, locks, and bolts (News, 29 July).

If you think that your church may be at particular risk of hate crime, or other types of crime, you should apply for funding. Applica­tions have to be submitted by 20 September, so there is not much time. Details about how to apply are at www.gov.uk/guidance/places-of-worship-security-funding-scheme.

Churches will always have some risks. Please do not ignore these, but try to put into place some sensible security measures that will help you to protect the people who use your building.

Churches should be open for their communities during the day. We know that those that are open in daylight hours suffer less crime than those that are closed. Open churches are used by the people in their area: they build up community cohesion, crime-reduction, and local pride.


Nick Tolson is the director of Churchwatch Research, and is the Christian representative on the places-of-worship security panel of the Counter Extremism Directorate in the Home Office.

Churchwatch Research is pub­lishing updated security advice for churches on 30 August (www.facebook.com/churchwatchre­search1/ ).

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