A place of worship traditionally has been considered a sacred place — a sanctuary. The term also refers to a safe haven, which a site of worship should be.
But violent incidents at worship sites have occurred. That’s one reason why the Rev. Stephen Popovich, pastor of St. Paul the Apostle Church, 10143 Main St., believes “being proactive is better than reactive.”
At Masses this weekend — 5 p.m. Saturday and 8 and 11 a.m. Sunday — Sgt. Ken Goist of New Middletown Police Department will speak on the ALICE program (Alert, Lockdown, Information, Counter, Evacuate). It focuses on responding to dangerous situations, including armed intruders and natural disasters.
Father Popovich said he felt Mother’s Day weekend was appropriate because of the terms people often use to describe mothers — caring, concerned, compassionate. He said he wanted to promote those terms in how parishioners might respond to an emergency. Most importantly, he said being prepared was vital.
Sgt. Goist, a member of the church, said he became a certified instructor through Response Options, which developed the ALICE Program. Since then, he has presented the ALICE Program in Springfield Local Schools, where it has been instituted, and will give a presentation next week for Struthers schools.
Goist said he devised a safety plan for a day care at St. Paul’s. “I worked with staff and children on the same principle as the school,” he said.
The police officer acknowledged most people don’t want to believe a violent incident could occur at their church. Preparation won’t stop an incident from happening, but if it does, people will know what to do, he said.
Goist’s talks this weekend at St. Paul’s will introduce the safety plan being developed. A church security ministry of active and retired law-enforcement officers is suggested along with training for volunteer church staff. “We just want people to be more aware and be more observant,” Goist said.
He noted most violent incidents seem to occur after a service has started and in the sanctuary. Locking doors is an option, he said. Have one door open after the service starts, he said, but not the main door that gives overall access to the sanctuary. Volunteer church staff should monitor doors.
Goist said a church sanctuary is similar to a cafeteria in school because of the number of people. If an armed intruder should invade the service, Goist said members should evacuate because moving targets are more difficult to shoot at. Members also might throw hymnals or Bibles to distract the intruder while yelling to further divert him.
Church members should be made of aware of all exits, he said. He added there also should be a rallying point established outside where people would gather.
Goist said he already has worked on numbering the church exits and windows. That’s to direct responders arriving at a shooting incident or health emergency to the correct access.
Police Chief Vincent D’Egidio has spoken in the community, offering help to churches to devise a safety plan.