The deadly shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue served as a solemn reminder to religious congregations in Somerset County that it could happen anywhere, anytime. That’s why many have reached out to law enforcement for advice about how to prepare for an active shooter attack.
Somerset Borough police said over the past year, about half a dozen churches have reached out for help. Officers go through several active shooter trainings a year and they encourage religious groups to do the same.
St. Paul’s United Church of Christ in Somerset had its staff go through “ALICE” active shooter training, which stands for alert, lockdown, inform, counter and evacuate.
Emergency officials said the biggest challenge is balancing convenience and safety, especially for places of worship that are usually open to the public.
“We can’t make [churches] the most secure structures on earth or it would defeat the very purpose of the business they’re in, which is community outreach and ministering to the community. But, it’s a matter of looking, seeing where those parameters lie and how to best function within those parameters and striking that balance,” said Somerset Borough Police Chief Randy Cox.
Police go through regular active shooter trainings and can help organizations in the community assess risks and come up with a safety and evacuation plan.
“We’ll assess the physical attributes of the building, the social practices in the building and then make recommendations from there: pointing out strengths, weaknesses and offering them direction they want to go on establishing an emergency plan,” said Cox.
Whether that plan includes installing metal detectors, doors that open with push-bars — instead of knobs or handles– or locking doors during worship services, emergency officials said the best thing to do is have a plan and know how to follow it.
“Try to plan for any type of situation that would require public safety to respond to,” said Joel Landis, the director of Somerset County Emergency Services.
Emergency officials added that there is not one solution that will work for every religious group. They recommend that any organization concerned about safety, should reach out to their local law enforcement for risk assessment and come up with an emergency plan together.