Posted on Friday, Jan 21, 2022 by Bob Dittman, ed. Marya Morgan

(Air1 Closer Look) – You see trouble, you hear it – now believe it. “Trust your intuition…you know when a situation is different,” says Hector Alvarez, an expert in workplace security with more than 25 years of experience in threat assessment. "One of your best bets for surviving these incidents is thinking about it before it happens.” 

Public spaces have clearly become more unpredictable in recent years, sometimes erupting in shocking violence. “Unfortunately, we’re starting to see some changes in behavior, we’re starting to see this phenomenon of smash n’grab robberies…but were also starting to see people being followed from the store or the bank to their residence…and so being situationally aware of what’s going around you, is somebody following you? And if they are, what do you do? Think through that.”

Mindi Russell advises asking yourself ‘what if?’ in advance of crisis to avoid a fearful freeze. She is the executive director of the Law Enforcement Chaplaincy of Sacramento and also trains the public in situational awareness. “When they walk into a room, walk into a concert, when they walk into a movie theatre, glance around. What looks out of place? What is the behavior you pick up?” People will ‘seem off’ if they intend harm. They will show their intentions in odd posture, by keeping their hand in their pockets, or adjusting their waistband, facing strongly to one side, not looking at you. “Stop looking for bad guys: start looking for bad behavior.”

Russell specializes in helping churches develop effective security plans. “The bad guys, the predators, don’t have boundaries: they go everywhere. Big churches, little churches, big towns, little towns.”  She finds churches “overtrusting,” confirmed each time she wanders in as a stranger and is given easy access to the inmost parts of the building -- or even led directly to the children. “People are not aware of the danger,” she warns, “and they are not trained to look for questions coming at them as possibly a threat.”

As we know, workplaces or churches can face the wrath of a mass shooter, but there are even more common threats to concern us, like armed robbers, people suffering from mental illness or the crossfire of domestic abuse. These events can happen anyplace that people gather, but Russell finds some church leaders push back on the idea of having a security plan. “They tell me, ‘God will take care of us' ...and I look at them and say, ‘do you have insurance for your church in case there’s a fire? Do you wear a seatbelt? Do you lock your doors at night?”  Such precautions avert danger. “We are commanded by God to take care of his sheep.”

Russell urges churches to recruit volunteers as rovers who watch the doors and parking lot. She advises you to restrict the number of entrances. Keep side doors shut and locked. Watch who gets too close to the pulpit. And just as passengers are reminded every time they board a flight, routinely point the crowd to the locations of the building exits.

“Everybody carries a weapon: guess what the weapon is? Their brain. Their mind. If everybody’s on the same page of doing the right thing we’re gonna have people not be hurt by people that come to wanna do harm.”

“Instead of, ‘it will never happen here,’ have the mindset that if something happens, this is what we’ll do.”

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Alvarez summarizes his advice this way: to escape danger you must M.O.V.E. 

M. Mindset. “If something happens, not only am I going to accept what is happening I’m going to harden my resolve to get home.”

O. Orientation. “You simply have to figure out where the violence is coming from,” like hearing a siren on the freeway and figuring out whether to pull off to the left or right. Once you know where the danger is you can decide to run, hide or fight.

V. Volume. “If I can’t find a way out, I’m gonna put as much stuff -- time, distance and material – between me and that violence. Locking doors, barricading them, looking for resources I need to protect myself.”

E. Engage. “I may have to fight back. And if I do have to fight back then I’m gonna fight back with everything I have.”

“The majority of us, just peace-loving people are not built to hurt other people – that’s when you go back to thinking about the ones you love and care about and doing the things we need to do to come home.”

And if it comes to a fight, even in a church, Russell says you must “use anything you got, from your Bible to the donation plate if that’s in your hand to what’s on the pulpit – use whatever it takes to stop that person from harming you, your family or others.”

“He expects us to be the gatekeeper and keep His people safe.”

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