In aftermath of church shootings, what do congregations need to know?

It’s something no one wants to think about, but it’s something we should prepare for, said Clayton Smith, chairman of the First Baptist Church of Burnet safety committee.

“People want to say it can’t happen in a small town, but it doesn’t get much smaller than Sutherland Springs with, what, maybe 400 people?” he said. “People still want to bury their heads in the sand, and we just can’t do that. It does happen.”

Smith is referring to shootings at churches and other places where people gather.

First Baptist Church of Burnet is hosting its second Active Shooter and Personal Safety Seminar to help churches, organizations, businesses, and residents prepare for the unthinkable.

The seminar is 9 a.m.-noon Saturday, February 8, at the church, 108 S. Vanderveer in Burnet. It is free to attend and no registration is required.

Williamson County Sheriff’s Deputy Brandon Schaefer will present a two-hour program on active shooter preparation, response, and personal safety. After the program, Smith and members of the First Baptist safety committee will discuss how churches can form a safety team.

First Baptist Church of Burnet has had a team in place since 2015.

In the aftermath of the Sutherland Springs shooting in 2017, when a man killed 26 people and wounded 20 others in the town’s First Baptist Church, many churches turned their attention to protecting their congregations. Smith attended a church security seminar a few weeks later at Celebration Church in Georgetown, also presented by Deputy Schaefer.

“He did such a great job, so, after it, I reached out to him,” Smith said. When First Baptist of Burnet hosted its first active shooter seminar in March 2018, 182 people from 32 churches attended. From that initial program, Smith said many Hill Country churches formed a loosely organized council to address safety and security.

“It’s worked out very well,” he added. “We just share information and learn from each other. There’s no sense in reinventing the wheel.”

The upcoming seminar falls on the heels of the December 29 shooting at West Freeway Church of Christ in White Settlement just outside of Fort Worth, where three people, including the gunman, were killed. But Smith said the First Baptist safety committee had been putting together the February workshop since October.

While the seminar will address safety and security at all places where people gather, it will focus on churches, which, Smith pointed out, are quite different than other facilities.

“In most places, like a business or school, you have people looking in multiple directions,” he said. “In church, 99 percent of the people are looking forward at the pastor, and the pastor may be focusing on the message. It’s a different situation, but you need to be aware of what’s going on.”

Smith and other safety committee members reviewed video from the White Settlement shooting, not just what was released to the media. They will not show it during the seminar because of its graphic content, but Smith said they learned many things from it.

“It’s sickening to watch, but it’s eye-opening,” he said.

The First Baptist safety committee will cover what churches need to know about setting up a committee of their own or simply addressing security concerns. But, Smith reiterated, the information is also valuable for businesses, organizations, and schools. He said the church has sent out seminar invitations to school districts across the area and as far as Georgetown.

“It’s a lot of good information,” Smith added.

The First Baptist safety committee is also looking to host a Stop the Bleed class in the spring. The program trains people on what to do if someone is shot, stabbed, or wounded. Smith said they have a person to conduct the training but haven’t settled on a date.

Call the church at 512-756-4481 for more information on the seminar or the spring program.

daniel@thepicayune.com

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