The Front Line of Defense
By: Carl Chinn
May 2nd, 1996 is a day I and many others will never forget. It was the day a man with a gun, a military pack which he claimed was filled with explosives, and a grudge came to our ministry. He walked in through the front doors like anyone else. The two receptionists were the first people he spoke to, and they were the first hostages in his attack.
You never know what is on someone’s mind when they walk through the front doors of your church or ministry. But the first one to understand the nature of the visit is typically the receptionist. After all, it is their duty by title to receive guests.
Many of the suggestions on this website and others have to do with the 2-10 hours per week of maximum traffic in a church (weekend services). The subject this week is on the 40+ hours of the regular workweek, and the most vulnerable person in the building during that time – the front receptionist.
We view our ministry as a necessary outreach for a particular world or community need. Not everyone in the community looks at our church or ministry the same way.
To consider the position of the front receptionist, we must consider the culture we intend to project, and the ministry they should emulate with their character. We must not however, ignore the dangers of the position by placing them in harm’s way without protection and training.
Think About It…
Ø When discussing the safety protection measures and training you will give the front desk receptionists, have your ministry leader or pastor assume for the duration of that conversation that the person sitting there day after day is their own wife, daughter or mother.
Ø However you set up your security plan at your church, don’t leave out the weekday (and weeknight) operations. Over 60% of deadly force incidents happen in these “non-event” times. It is reasonable to conclude that all crime categories follow similar statistics, yet churches who do have security often only consider security for weekend and other events. There must be some procedures set up during non-event times, and those procedures should center on these front line positions. Few people understand the overall church activity as well as these folks. Include them in the plan, and make certain you intentionally consider their safety.
Ø In medium to large size ministries, there is no excuse for not having duress systems of some sort. In the case of the May 2nd, 1996 incident that opened this subject, the ladies who were taken hostage used such a system to summon support. Intentional responders were beside them within 17 seconds of the start of the attack, and we never left their side until it was over. Give front line personnel an easily operable means of calling for help. Panic buttons that they either wear or can activate discreetly are a no-brainer place to start.
Ø If your ministry is a church, consider locking the door in front of them during the week. If you can afford it, place a microphone beside the door. A microphone with a camera is best, and can be interfaced with a switch to allow receptionists to remotely unlock the door for known guests. Many wolves will simply turn away and go somewhere else if they come to such a delay type system. It sends a message that the church has considered security. Most any security vendor can supply, connect and program such a system for less than $700.00. Many churches have spent more than that on software protection or presentation technology. Take protection of these vulnerable people as serious as other “priorities”.
Ø If you are a small church and simply cannot afford an entry intercom system, lock the doors and move the receptionist out of site of the front entry. Simply post a sign that indicates, “If you need to contact us and the doors are locked, please call 555-xxx-xxxx”. To leave an entire building open is not necessary, and exposes weekly operations staff to unnecessary risk. The vast majority of people now have cell-phones; it is not an insult to require them to use it to contact you from the front door. A ministry can maintain an open culture with entry control. It is easier to accept such practices after someone gets hurt. Read the story of Clinton Dobson and the ministry assistant on 3/3/2011. When I visited that church a few months after the attack, the doors were locked and the wording of the posted sign by the door was as suggested in this point.
Ø If there are any restraining orders or protective alerts for your ministry or area, make certain the front receptionist is aware of them, and has the relevant pictures and information in a discreet place where they can regularly review them. Have them trained on what to do should that person appear.
Ø In addition to the front receptionists, consider other front line positions as well. A priority is those who occupy the interface / transaction areas of your benevolence operations.
Ø Any point of sale or other public interface position (such as the mail office, or shipping / receiving in larger organizations) should get equal attention and training.
Ø Equip your front line folks, whether they face guests or take their calls at the published numbers (or both) with procedures on threat or suicide calls. Not everyone agrees, but I like to see these folks told that they will receive one threat call a year that is a drill. This way they are expecting it, and are prepared to remain calm during the call anticipating it may be the drill. If you write and request it at firstname.lastname@example.org I will send you a threat call checklist you can use as training for your folks.
Ø Anyone who receives mail should be trained on suspicious mail. The US Postal Service has a good resource to print off a suspicious mail or package awareness poster at http://about.usps.com/posters/pos84.pdf