By Chester Quarles, Professor Emertrius University of Mississippi
What do you do?
How do you respond to a nightmare?
You need a well thought-out plan, because most people lose their ability to think logically during an ongoing crisis. They lose their cognitive processing and make bad decisions.
Being prepared can save your life and the lives of those in your congregation.
Having a plan gives you an edge. Failing to prepare is incredibly costly. Preparation is more than a state of mind; it is the ability to respond quickly and appropriately.
Unfortunately, there is no “one size fits all” armed predator plan for any church. The mega-church has many more options than does a small congregation.
A single shooter can’t control a crowd of several thousand worshipers. Worshipers some distance from the spree shooter can evacuate through alternative exits. However, in a small-church congregational setting the spree shooter can control all of the exits.
Most shooting trajectories are higher than18 inches. Positioning yourself lower than this significantly decreases your chances of being shot. If everyone hits the floor, it will also provide a clear shot for any gun-carrying guardian or police officer worshiping with you.
The officer or guardian can’t fire if innocent people are in the way. He or she is totally helpless, even with a firearm, the skill to use it well, and the will to use it to save lives in a chaotic situation where innocents impede a clear shot.
The time to stop the spree shooter is before he enters the sanctuary. This is accomplished by a “layered” security program which should begin at your parking perimeters.
This is where your “welcoming committee,” your “guardians,” your security officers or police officials employed by your church can intervene.
The best weapon available in a church shooting event is not a firearm. It’s a cell phone! Communication during an armed robbery, the murder of a particular worshiper, or a spree shooting is vital. Use the cell phone, quickly. Get out of denial and dial!
Terrorists or robbers often use this tactic. It usually involves a team of criminals who are ordinarily well armed.
In a church setting, they use force to gain compliance from the congregation.
Congregational hostage-taking is difficult to understand, but in most cases, it involves the crime of robbery. Your first weapon, when confronted with such an event should be prayer. The second should be your cell phone.
The barricade part of the hostage-taking occurs when the police arrive outside and control who goes in and who comes out. Normally a specially trained hostage negotiator will be on site and will work with the SWAT Team. The force will be available for a rescue, but since 98 percent of all hostages are released after or during negotiation, the preference is to continuing talking unless someone else is harmed.
When confronted with such a chaotic situation you should first remember that if they wanted to kill you, they would do so immediately, The fact that any violence is minimized, even though profane threats mean that they want something else. Always remember how easy it is to kill and a 50-cent bullet can remove obstacles to their plan.
The hostage takers have an agenda: Normally they want you to live. Dead hostages are of little value and any shooting during this type of event will normally result in the police SWAT team coming in with deadly force.
DUCK AND TAKE COVER
If the police enter your church, you should duck and take cover. If it is possible, get on the floor and avoid the bullets that may start flying. For elderly people, the best idea is to lean forward in the pew and place your hands behind your head. This shows your adversaries and the police as well that you are not a threat.
If you have a John Wayne, a Clint Eastwood, or a Lone Ranger in your church, please try to keep him under control.
NEVER LOSE CONTROL
If a church member loses control, people may die. All precipitous behavior should be avoided. If there is only one adversary, you may be able to stop him. If there are several, the situation is even more tenuous.
Starting a firefight, even with a clear shot at one or more assailants, is fraught with danger for all in attendance. Psychologists call active resistance in such a situation “counterphobic behavior” and it should be avoided at all costs.
If you and your “Rambos” can keep control of your baser impulses, probably everyone will live. If anyone loses control, some of your people will likely be killed.
With this in mind, church leaders should plan for this possibility, and insure that all ushers, deacons and members of your security team are all operating from the same plan.
Do what the hostage takers tell you to do. Never say “no” and never say “never” to armed men in a public setting. These words can get you killed.
These guys want control and they want it now!
By acquiescing, you can become “successful victims.” Successful victims survive and usually don’t require hospitalization.