School/Church Defense (Part 1): An Integrated Approach

What mission could be more important than protecting America’s children at the schools where they go to learn each day? Equally important is protecting our places of worship where families and communities come together to strengthen their faith and moral values. These two missions are very similar and critically important to our nation’s continued growth and way of life. However, no one has come up with a comprehensive solution for how to accomplish this mission as far as we know. We don’t claim to have the answer either, but the following 4-part article offers simple suggestions that might get us closer to the solution or improve our chances of success in the worst-case scenario. While this article references “school defense,” these same principles can apply to church defense or any other community entity.

The article is divided into four parts because we believe effective school defense demands the careful and effective integration of three different elements: 1) local law enforcement, 2) on-site school guards, 3) auxiliary guards, and designated armed citizens. Therefore, this first part of the article provides a general overview of these three elements and the importance of their integration. The remaining three parts of the article discuss the training, planning, and employment for each separate element in succession.

The reason why it is essential to integrate various security elements into a broader school defense strategy is simple: lack of manpower and resources. In a world with unlimited resources, school security is an easy problem to solve. Assign multiple teams of highly-trained law enforcement and security personnel to protect each school. However, this solution is most likely not feasible at the moment. Therefore, the challenge becomes how to take advantage of as many security resources and assets as possible to offset manpower deficiencies. However, as with any military or security operation where multiple elements need to cooperate, the situation can rapidly deteriorate without effective coordination and integration plans.

The first step in developing a plan or strategy for school defense is for every school to immediately implement a hasty or tentative plan for dealing with a deadly attack and then establish a schedule for rehearsing that plan consistently. This will provide a temporary solution and buy time to develop a larger, more comprehensive strategy.

Once a tentative plan and reaction drill is in place, the next step is to look for all the potential security assets and resources that might be massed against the threat. If possible, schools should employ at least one armed guard and integrate that guard into the existing emergency response plan and rehearsals. The critical point is that once the guard is incorporated, the drill should look less like a “fire drill” and more like a tactical exercise where the guard will have to find and neutralize the simulated attacker while innocents escape according to the evacuation plan.

There might also be untapped security assets that could help in a crisis, such as school staff who have firearms training, are licensed to carry concealed weapons, or are former law enforcement or military personnel. There might also be parents or other citizens with experience and training willing to volunteer to augment security. This “auxiliary security force” could provide critical manpower in a crisis. All members of the auxiliary also do not necessarily need to be armed. The auxiliary might include people with medical training or simply strong, athletic people who can help evacuate casualties. However, these auxiliary forces must be identified, vetted, and then incorporated into the drills along with the armed guards, ensuring they can provide safe and effective support.

The final element is the official law enforcement officers and first responders responsible for the area where the school is located. These authorities must be kept in the loop throughout the entire process just described. Ultimately, while the development and implementation of the various plans can be decentralized, law enforcement authorities must remain in overall ”command” of the process and are responsible for ensuring the different elements fit into a broader plan that ends in the arrival of law enforcement personnel, securing of the scene and evacuation of wounded. If possible, it would be ideal to have at least one law enforcement liaison attend each emergency drill and remain in frequent communication with school guards and auxiliary team members.

The message of the first part of this four-part article is straightforward: When faced with limited resources, the critical point is to take advantage of all potential security assets and ensure they are appropriately integrated into a coherent strategy. However, as evident as this point may be, many schools and communities have failed to implement this integrated approach. So, a discussion of the importance of integration is a useful point of departure for exploring school defense. The next part of this article will discuss the selection, training, and employment of on-site armed guards and their integration into a deadly-attack evacuation drill. We welcome members to add their thoughts and comments below. (NOTE: You must be a Special Tactics member, either free or Elite, to post comments)


  1. Fred

    Great article and the three elements you are going to discus are crucial. There is one other element important to responding to these active killings and that is the members of the schools or parishioners, teachers and students and their role in staying safe when an active killer goes into action. The run, hide or fight or lockdown, leave or live methodology is crucial and must be trained in safety protocols that involve locking down if its safe to do so and the building is designed with rooms that provide cover. If not then improvisation needs to take place by barricading doors in room Harding the target in some way. Some times the best option for those potential victims is to run or leave to avoid contact with the killer. If neither of these alternatives exists then there is no choice left but to fight.

    Having those folks doing these things as they wait for responders may be life saving and it helps to make those responding more effective. Perhaps in the other3 parts you plan already to mention this but I thought I would mention it as its come up time and time again in AARs of critical incidents hat those initial steps taken before responders arrive can and do save lives. So those who go to our schools and churches or go to work every day in their workplaces need to be part of the planning as well.

  2. Elijah J. Henry

    Having served as a church security guard, I am thrilled that y’all are tackling this topic. Perhaps ST and Sheepdog Church Security could collaborate on some courses focused on this subject.