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Disaster Preparedness: A Caution Against Premature Philosophizing

Ian EvisonWhat might we do to prevent tragedies like the horrifying shootings two weeks ago during the Sunday morning service at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Church?   Daniel O'Connell-our District President and Lead Minister at Eliot Unitarian Chapel-phoned me with this question.  I must admit to mixed feelings about this.  UU congregations have done a lot in the past few years to make themselves more secure.  It is fairly easy to institute better procedures for securing the building when people are leaving, or to institute policies against people working late alone.  But this was somebody showing up at the 11 AM Sunday service.  We want strangers to show up at the 11 AM service!
When Daniel phoned, my thinking about the Tennessee valley tragedy had turned philosophical:  there are, after all, some risks inherent in living. Yet, talking to Daniel I realized that I had turned philosophical prematurely. There is a healthy median between ignoring risk and obsession with it. We must refuse to allow concern for security to determine our congregational missions and goals. And, at the same time, we must insist on a systematic and rational approach to reducing unnecessary risk, especially when we need to take on goals that have necessary risks inherent in them (like welcoming strangers). 

So, take this as an occasion to systematically review what you might, could, should do to systematically reduce risk while maintaining your open, positive, and welcoming stance. Our association has recently greatly improved its web resources on the topic of "Creating and Maintaining a Safe Congregation:   http://www.uua.org/leaders/leaderslibrary/congregationalhandbook/34764.shtml

One of the resources recommended here, a check-list from Church Mutual Insurance, is a particularly good starting point:
http://www.churchmutual.com/documents/Self_Inspection_Checklist.pdf

Indeed, this pamphlet from Church Mutual is one of a larger series on safety issues, all of which are very good-and free:  http://www.churchmutual.com/index.php/choice/risk/page/rm_booklets2/id/35

Not surprisingly, those religious groups who have had greater security concerns have also been in the forefront of developing resources.  The Anti-Defamation League has, for example developed an excellent, if somewhat dauntingly comprehensive guide: http://www.adl.org/security/new_guide/.

Christianity Today, has two good collections of articles more specifically targeted to gun violence and crime prevention, though they are not free: Protecting Your Church from Crime and Violence (http://store.churchlawtodaystore.com/pryochfrcran.html) and Confronting Gun Violence at Church (http://store.churchlawtodaystore.com/cogunviatchd.html). My experience with these collections sold by Christianity Today is that they are often compilations of things found elsewhere for free. Indeed, I find there is a free version of the article perhaps most relevant in the wake of the Tennessee Valley shootings: "Security against Shooters," by Andrew G. Mills, an officer in the San Diego police department (http://www.christianitytoday.com/leaders/newsletter/2007/cln70611.html).

Other articles in these Christianity Today collections come from the excellent-and free-resource collection from another of the major companies insuring houses of worship, Brotherhood Mutual (http://www.brotherhoodmutual.com/safetycentral/resources5.htm).

Perhaps there is a time for philosophizing about the inevitability of risk in an uncertain world.  But, before you write your sermon on this -- or get your Board involved in planning, check out some of these resources and, at least, go through one of these excellent risk reduction checklists.

Ian Evison