Armed-intruder seminar is May 23 at Berean Baptist 

Recent armed attacks on houses of worship around the world have some worship leaders thinking the unthinkable.

An upcoming seminar at Berean Baptist Church in Burnsville gets right to the point. “Armed Intruder Best Safety Practices” will be held from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Thursday, May 23. The church is at 309 County Road 42 E.

Sponsor Church Mutual Insurance Co., the nation’s largest insurer of religious institutions, will be joined by security experts and a lawyer.

“It’s not a topic you’d want to be talking about, but it is one that houses of worship and schools, really anywhere that people congregate, need to be thinking about,” said Guy Russ, assistant vice president of risk control for the Merrill, Wisconsin-based company.

Very recent attacks have been horrific: mass shootings at New Zealand mosques, suicide bombings at Christian churches in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday, a synagogue shooting near San Diego on the last day of Passover, a shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue.

In the United States since 2012, Russ said his company has counted 15 armed attacks at houses of worship, with 67 killed and 37 wounded.

The company, which operates in all 50 states, has offered armed-intruder seminars for about a year and a half, he said.

“There is very, very high interest from our policyholders,” Russ said. At the company’s risk hot line, “Anything about armed intruder is our No. 1 call, and it has been for two years now. About 90 percent of those calls are asking for our advice or input on having an armed security team versus an unarmed security team. Last month we had a call from a policyholder who said, ‘We’ve just purchased AR-15s, and how should we store them and secure them?’ ”

Berean Baptist, whose growth in recent years prompted the opening of a Lakeville campus and expansion of the Burnsville campus, established a security team called SAFE in 2014, said Kay Larson, managing director of church operations.

The team of some 20 church members trained as first responders includes former law enforcement officers and military veterans, she said. Many, not all, team members carry concealed firearms when on duty, Larson said.

Present at both campuses, four to six SAFE members are on hand during large gatherings including Saturday and Sunday services and Wednesday-night youth programs, Larson said.

The church also hires police officers on Sunday mornings and for key events such as Holy Week and Christmas Eve services, she said.

The church built its security response not just for attacks but also for events like severe weather, Larson said.

“We haven’t gotten any threats,” she said. “We’re not reacting to something other than we’re trying to be proactive.”

It’s a challenge to throw open your doors to everyone knowing a tiny few could mean harm, Larson said.

“That’s why we have teams in place to keep an eye out for that,” she said. “They are trained to look at people’s body movements and their demeanor and how they react.”

Churches sometimes attract people with mental health problems who pose no danger, Larson said. SAFE team members are trained to spot and be welcoming to people who appear to be struggling, she said.

“We don’t want to create a fortress,” said Larson, who said Berean averages weekly attendance of about 3,100 between the two campuses.

The church, a policyholder, agreed to host the armed-intruder seminar at the insurance company’s request, Larson said. Leaders of other worship houses and school and nonprofit leaders are welcome to attend, according to Russ.

Along with Church Mutual Insurance Co., presenters include security experts from Firestorm and the ALICE Training Institute (ALICE stands for alert, lockdown, inform, counter, evacuate). An attorney from Maple Grove-based Henningson and Snoxell will discuss legal considerations.

For example, Russ said, congregations choosing armed security can hire local law enforcement, hire a private security firm or use its own members.

“Each of those carries different best practices but also different liability considerations,” Russ said.

The company encourages policyholders to devise an emergency plan and then rehearse it, like a fire or tornado drill, Russ said.

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