Variety of measures presented to assist houses of worship

Mar. 21, 2013 @ 11:47 PM

Church officials gathered Thursday morning for a session of Church Watch directed at how to better defend against crime in and around buildings of worship.

The Henderson Police Department, Henderson-Vance Fire Department and Crime Stoppers joined with nearly 40 representatives from local churches for the security information session.

Also present was Dave Arner, of Ahner Security Systems in Henderson, a low voltage company providing and installing devices with up to 50 volts of power.

“When it comes to video surveillance, we’ve done a lot of that in churches lately,” Arner said. “In recent years prices of cameras and DVRs have come down, and it’s easier to access video online which has made them very popular.”

Arner described various surveillance systems, designed to help churches monitor traffic at entranceways.

Cameras installed with DVR, while more expensive, continuously record activity. Internet Protocol cameras allow users to view action from a computer or smartphone. While they do not record, they do allow entranceways to be monitored remotely.

“Four cameras with DVR will generally run about $4,000,” Arner said.

Bill Lloyd, a representative of South Henderson Pentecostal Holiness Church, brought forward discussion on the role ushers and greeters play in keeping a church safe.

During a service, Lloyd says it’s important to keep at least one person in the foyer area and fellowship hall to monitor for intruders.

“Greeters and ushers should remain responsible for one area,” Lloyd said. “It creates structure and organization.”

Keeping all doors but one locked is a measure being taken by Poplar Creek Baptist on Poplar Creek Road.

“Our ushers and deacons, they make sure all the other entrances are locked but one,” said Tony Evans, pastor at Poplar Creek Baptist for the past seven years.

Evans recalled an incident at the church about seven years ago, when a person off the street wondered into the church, giving ladies keeping the church nursery an unexpected scare. Since then, Evans said the church has been using locks more efficiently.

While keeping doors locked provides safety in churches, it can also create a fire hazard.

According to Jon Juntunen, fire and life safety educator with the Henderson Fire Department, locking all doors is considered a fire hazard unless a door with a panic bar is present.

At the request of any given church, safety inspections can be performed by the Vance County Sheriff’s Office, or by Lt. Irvin Robinson and officer Jessica West of the Henderson Police Department.

Furthermore, escorts can be provided for churches transporting large amounts of money.

“If you’re in the city limits call 911 and ask for an escort, and yes, law enforcement will come and escort you to the bank,” Robinson said.

Frank Sossamon, Crime Stoppers chairman, advised church officials to insure their offerings in case losses do occur.

“There is insurance to cover those kinds of losses,” Sossamon said.

Lt. Robinson provided numerous safety tips, including keeping shrubbery around churches cut down below windows so outside views are not blocked.

He also encouraged churches to use sufficient lighting in and around churches, including in parking lot areas.

Locks exposed by openings between doors and doorframes expose them to easy access.

“Plates can be put in place to keep people from prying at the door lock,” Robinson said.

General safety tips also included the use of signage to indicate use of an alarm system, using exterior doors with a solid core construction, never being in a church alone, and simply being aware of surroundings.

“Look at your places of worship as a criminal would,” Robinson said. “What would a criminal steal? Where would they find access?”

Contact the writer at amauser@hendersondispatch.com.