Last Sunday morning I was enjoying just a lazy Sunday morning waiting for my wife to return home. I had been cleaning up the kitchen and vacuuming. I hate my wife coming back home from being out of town and her walking into a messy house.
I had been a bachelor for the previous 4 days while my wife traveled back to her childhood home to celebrate her parent’s 70th wedding anniversary with the entire family. I was looking forward to her being back, I have a great wife!
Then the cell phone rang and it is a Peace Officer buddy of mine from church. He works closely with me on security matters for 13 congregations in a 3-county area. He didn’t have good news.
He explained to me that there had been two separate bombings at two separate churches within minutes of each other. He explained damage had occurred but was unaware of any casualties. We coordinated a response, he would head to the scene to feed us information and I would start clearing our two separate church buildings in our town. Eight different congregations share the two buildings, four congregations for each building.
I quickly cleaned up, dressed in Sunday attire and headed out the door. My day ended about 10 hours later. Let me share a few things that I think are important, what I learned, or at least had reinforced to me that day.
- There is always a lack of, or confusing, information. Even though I had a contact at the scene of one of the bombings, and he is a supervisor, he still had a hard time sorting out the good and bad information. There were widely varying stories about what had happened. It swung from firecrackers in a mailbox to pipe bombs at the doors. The reports said no one was present, when in actuality there were people in both churches having services. Communications is, and always will be, the #1 problem in any emergency or disaster situation. If you don’t make some preparations on how to deal with that, then you will be behind the curve from the very beginning and probably won’t be able to recover from it.
- No known motivation. Early on there was no actual motivation of why it was done or even who might have done it. There still isn’t. Without having some kind of idea of who or why, it is much harder to get a true feel for what is happening and how to properly respond. We had to make assumptions as to what the motivation might be but we couldn’t even guess as to whom. Since no one was hurt, and the devices didn’t explode where people were at the moment, then we felt it was more a statement event. We were wrong from the very beginning.
- The police utterly failed to notify other churches or provide protection to any other potential targets. Like moths to a flame all law enforcement converged on the crime scene en masse. That left the entire city, even the whole county, with virtually no police protection at all. The police called one other church, quickly told them what had happened and asked them to call the other churches in town. We have 100+ churches in town, how do you think that worked out? Most churches were never contacted. There was absolutely no “protect & serve” that morning, all the police were at the two scenes vs. providing protection for citizens.
Had this been a diversionary tactic for anything else, the police would have been 100% screwed. The police acted unprofessionally; poorly trained, poorly prepared, poor response…poor everything. That once again reinforces that you shouldn’t count on effective law enforcement response when there is a true emergency or disaster.
- While we, our church’s limited security group responded well to our 8-congregation area of responsibility in this specific town. But we were understaffed from the very beginning. We simply didn’t have enough people to adequately respond to two separate buildings to quickly clear them, and declare them safe or evacuate them. We were also understaffed to provide security during services throughout the rest of the day.
- While our leadership of the 13-congregation area was notified quickly, there was no clear direction given as to what each congregations should do. For example; should they evacuate the buildings? Should they continue with services that day? Who should each congregation contact for information and direction?
- While we have a significant Emergency Preparedness Plan for the congregations in the area, it doesn’t cover “bombings” or “bomb threats” etc. Almost three years ago we discussed needing a specific security plan, it was never acted on. It should have been, it would have covered this situation.
- I am supposed to be the person that advises the 13-congregation leader and remain by his side as a subject matter expert during emergencies and disasters. However, due to us being undermanned and not calling in other folks to assist, I was out in the field and not where I needed to be. A lot of this was driven by not having a full sense of what was happening, but having a sense of urgency to react to protect church goers. However, had the problem grown, we would not have had key people in-place as per the plan.
- I personally dehydrated that day. I began my response a little after 0900 that day. I didn’t drink my first water till almost noon. By then I was behind the hydration curve. I drank periodically from building drinking fountains as I could, but it was not enough. I should have carried water with me and maintained my water intake to the appropriate level. I could have stopped at a convenience store to buy a bottle of water. I got tunnel vision and was too task focused.
- There was no sense of panic among our responders. We accepted the situation for what is was and went about our business of responding. I would imagine if you had asked most church members that day, they weren’t even aware of what we were doing.
- The primary response players for our church stayed in good contact. We used texting mostly to reduce time on the phone. However, we did have phone conversations when appropriate information needed to be shared. Had the phones gone down we would have been screwed. Our handheld Ham radio cache was back at my house.
- As I was leaving the house I took a extra couple of minutes to load a second spare pistol magazine. I usually only carry one spare magazine thinking 19 shots should be plenty in 99%+ encounters as a conceal carry person. However, this was a special case. The extra 9-rounds in the second spare magazine made me feel a little more secure.
- As I was walking out the door I also stopped to ensure that my handheld tactical light was working and the batteries were fresh. The light can fit comfortably in my pants pocket. I don’t see a need for some 4-cell D-size battery flashlight. A small, easy to use, comfortable to carry, tactical light is what I prefer.
- And as my hand hit the doorknob I had a flash of brilliance…I would be looking over church grounds, walking through church buildings, armed…ah, what is wrong with that picture? Any cop who might see me would think and/or do what? Yeah, can you see a problem there? So I grabbed my “Security Enforcement Officer” badge. Looks like most police department shields. It just might give me that extra second or two to let a cop know that I am not the bad guy. It is a great investment at under $30 for the badge and holder.
- There are no criteria provided to our congregations for “must evacuate” and “may evacuate” events. There is zero guidelines for those kinds of events. That is unacceptable. How would leaders have any clue on how to proceed in this situation or one like it.
Lot’s of stuff going on in this kind of a situation, I am sure I will come up with more as time goes on. But never, ever, in my wildest imagination would I have guessed that I would live in a time and place where you had bombs going off at churches. But here we are…we are in those times.
While one of the church leaders and I were talking towards the end of the day, we were lamenting the same thing…church bombings and crazy times. His response, “We’re in the last days brother.”
So here is my partial “to-do” list out of all of this:
- Update the Emergency Communications Plan to include the ability to text message each congregation leader as a group.
- Update the Emergency Preparedness Plan with guidelines on “evacuation” decisions.
- Update the Emergency Preparedness Plan to include more direct violence threats such as bombings and active shooter.
- Follow through on creating a Security Plan.
- Work on how to identify more folks to act as security when needed.
There are a few more items but those are confidential.
- What would you do in a real-life “church bombing” scenario?
- What would you have your family do?
- What would expect your church to do?
- How could you help in such a situation?
Let’s all commit to learn from what has happened and may we be better prepared for a situation like this in the future. For it is the future…Welcome to the last days brother!
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