If you were asked to picture a robbery and/or assault, a retail business open late-at-night in a high crime area would come to mind as a likely target. Rarely would a church office open in the middle of the day be the first scenario you’d envision. However, it does happen and should be a concern. Take this recent crime that occurred at a church in North Texas in March of 2011.
“A 28-year old pastor was in his church office writing a sermon when a convicted felon entered the church in an attempted robbery. The pastor was suffocated to death, and his 67-year-old female assistant was severely beaten.”
Safety and Security Precautions
While such occurrences are rare, they underscore the importance of considering safety and security, not just on Sundays, but every day of the week and at all times of day. Consider implementing the following recommended safety and security precautions to help you protect your building and employees:
- Control access to the office. Consider using a single point of entry, such as the front door, with all other access doors remaining secured. For the front door, an electronic access control system could be used, which would require visitors to be “buzzed” into the office before they can enter. Alternatively, consider a door detector or buzzer system that would make a noise when someone was entering or exiting the building.
- Arrange office space with safety in mind. Consider arranging the office furniture and work space in such a way that there is a physical separation between employees and those entering the office. This may be accomplished through the placement of counters, desks, and/or tables. Likewise, design the work space to ensure exits and escape routes are easily accessible to employees and that they cannot become trapped from escape. As an added precaution, consider having the work space configured so employees are facing toward those entering the office, allowing for visual contact.
- Establish an internal distress code that will alert others in the office to your need for assistance. For example, if church office workers typically address each other by first name, to signal a distress situation, your code could be addressing a colleague by their last name (i.e., Mr. Smith).
- Establish a clear alternative escape route through means other than the front door, and make sure employees are aware of this route.
- Consider installing a security video surveillance system; and post signs inside and outside of the facility to indicate that security cameras are in use.
- Increase lighting around the premises, especially in parking lots and walkways.
- Install a security alarm system and/or security devices, such as a distress signal, hand-held alarm or noise device. These added precautions should be used in conjunction with other safeguards.
- Confirm means for quick communication. Make sure your employees have the ability to quickly communicate with 911 and one another via telephone, cell phone, and/or other means.
- Never allow staff to work alone. Make sure there is more than one employee in the office at all times.
- Landscape with safety in mind. Keep landscaping near the building, such as trees and shrubs, trimmed. This will take away potential hiding places and allow for better observation of those approaching the building.
- Consult your local law enforcement agency about the physical security of your office environment. They are often willing to visit your location to discuss office security with you at no cost.
For additional workplace violence resources, please visit the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) websites.