Church security systems and safety planning guide

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It might be surprising that security is a top concern for many places of worship. However, theft, crime and threats against faith-based organizations are all-too common at religious institutions throughout the world, so today’s congregations need to be prepared. Being proactive about church security is a smart way to protect your members and your congregation’s assets. This church safety and security guidebook will help identify the best types of security systems for your congregation, and how to be better equipped to safeguard your facilities and handle emergency situations as they arise.

Risk assessment for church security

Knowing the problem areas and determining risk level is essential to creating a comprehensive church security plan for your congregation. While a full-blown, top-of-line system seems like a smart way to cover all your bases, it’s likely going to also blow your security budget. Instead, use a security audit guide to help you identify what matters most for your security system, and how to proceed with your plan. Work with a local security expert to schedule a site walkthrough of your building. They can pinpoint key areas that might be overlooked in your current church security plan, and make recommendations on the types of temple and church security equipment that are right for your space.

Assessing the risk level for a church or temple is more than just figuring out where to install a camera or upgrading to new door locks. There are environmental and societal risk factors to take into consideration as well. Natural disasters are inevitable, but the right security system will help safeguard your assets when they happen. Certain parts of the world need to be prepared for tornadoes, while other areas are at higher risk for hurricanes or flooding. Similarly, security requirements change based on the location and community of the congregation. A church located in a small suburb will have different security needs than a congregation that meets in a downtown high-rise building. This is why a one-size-fits-all security system for churches is not always the best option. Knowing the specific threats to protect against will help you tailor a church security system that addresses all your unique concerns.

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The best church security systems for your facility

There are many different companies that offer church security equipment and systems. Because each congregation is unique the type of system needed isn’t the same for everyone. The size of the congregation is one of the biggest influences on the best type of security needed for your church or synagogue. Larger buildings with more members will likely require a more robust security system and added features. If your congregation holds large events or hosts private events for members, that will require additional security capabilities as well. As mentioned earlier, location also plays a role in security: churches in high-crime areas will need different security protocols compared to a synagogue that’s in an area prone to natural disasters.

Before selecting a company to install new equipment, use this church safety and security guidebook to help you narrow down what you need. The common components of most temple or church security systems are access control and video security cameras, with management and communication tools to support them.

Access control

Access control systems for places of worship help protect members by keeping non-members out, and can also serve as added security for private offices, storage rooms, and IT rooms that house electronic equipment. While access control systems are a necessary component of physical security, churches and religious buildings should still feel open and welcoming. Choosing the right church access control system can make a huge difference both in the security of the space, as well as maintaining an open church environment.

Features to look for in synagogue and church access control systems include:

  • Unobtrusive design — Don’t let bulky, outdated readers take away from the beauty of your synagogue or church. Work with an access control installer in your area to select sleek door readers that can mount flush with the wall, and are the right size for the space you have.

  • Easy-to-manage credentials — Welcoming new members and staff to your congregation should be effortless, and so should getting in the door. Mobile credentials are a great choice for church and temple access control, as your members won’t need a key card or fob to enter the building; their smartphone is their key. Plus, mobile credentials are more secure than traditional key cards and fobs.

  • Attendance reporting and tracking — Knowing who’s entering your space and when is key to understanding and adapting to the changing needs of a congregation. Remote access control systems that feature detailed activity reports and easy auditing tools help keep you informed without even having to be onsite. Plus, attendance tracking can help churches manage occupancy levels and adhere to social distancing guidelines.

  • Adaptable, future-proof technology — The last thing any organization needs is to invest in new church security equipment, to have it be obsolete in two years. Avoid this common pitfall with an access control system designed to be future-proof. Look for products that can scale up or back easily, and that allow unlimited integrations with other systems. Cloud-based security systems also have the benefit of instant over-the-air software upgrades, rather than having to pay for a technician to manually patch your system in person.

Emergency system lockdown 

Having a plan for emergencies is essential to achieving fast, effective responses and minimizing damages. For the best church security, choose a church access control system that offers system-wide lockdown capabilities. The ability to lock down your facility can help prevent intruders from getting in, and in the event somebody does get inside with malintent, you can secure specific doors to detain them from inflicting greater harm. 

With a lockdown feature like the one offered by Openpath, you can plan unlimited lockdown procedures for different emergency scenarios. Because Openpath runs on an open, cloud-based platform, admins have the unique ability to trigger and revert Lockdowns remotely from their online devices, phones, or with a swipe card onsite, allowing them to react quickly and appropriately in the moment. Integrated with church alarm systems and sensors, the Openpath Lockdown feature can be set to automatically notify emergency personnel if glass break or gunshot detectors are triggered, and send a live video feed when connected to church security cameras.

Openpath’s award-winning Flexible Lockdown plans are included at no additional cost for all 501(c)3 organizations.

Video surveillance

A church security camera system is a smart investment in addition to access control. Security cameras add a visual component to your congregation security, giving teams the benefit of monitoring more physical area at once. A security system installer can help determine the best placement for church security cameras, and will likely recommend installing the equipment where it can provide a visual on places that may be targeted when services are in session or after-hours, such as back doors, parking lots, and storage rooms.

One issue with video surveillance systems for churches is that they need to be managed in order to be beneficial. If nobody is watching the footage, or if past footage isn’t stored for long periods of time, video surveillance is not going to help improve security. Choose church security equipment that is interoperable with access control and other systems to minimize management. By connecting commercial security cameras with access control via open API, Openpath lets security teams associate access activity with live video feeds. When an access event such as a door forced open occurs, the Openpath platform can send out a security alert, complete with a snapshot of the video, to help security teams determine the best course of action.

Security management platforms

Most churches and synagogues are not open and in session 24/7, but that doesn’t mean criminals take a break too. Having the right tools in place to manage and monitor the facility will help safeguard the congregation, even when no one is there. A cloud-based security system enables you to monitor security from anywhere, at any time. Remote management is a more modern solution for religious institutions, and offers many benefits. With cloud access, you can implement after-hours monitoring without having to be on-site or staff an overnight security shift.

In addition to the convenience of accessing the system from anywhere, cloud-based management platforms are hosted by a third party. This means your congregation doesn’t need to pay to maintain a local server. With everything in the cloud, there’s less burden on your IT teams, and reduced long-term costs for maintenance and software licensing.

Two-way radios and communication tools

Communication is an essential part of any well-functioning team, especially in stressful situations. Make sure your on-site teams are equipped with the necessary tools to communicate easily with one another, such as with two-way radios.

You’ll also want to establish communication protocols as part of your temple or church security plan. Set rules and guidelines for when to reach out to emergency personnel, and decide who is the best contact to handle each type of situation.

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Creating your church security plan

With a better understanding of the different types of security equipment and systems available for churches and synagogues, it’s easier to invest in the right equipment. However, having the right technology is just one piece of a complete church security strategy. You also need to have a plan in place for how to leverage the technology to best protect your space.

Automations and integrations are a smarter way to use church security technology to your advantage. With access control, church security cameras, alarm systems, and identity platforms all connected, there’s less work needed from your in-house security teams. Your synagogue or church security plan should include how you plan to use these systems in conjunction to strengthen your overall security.

All regular staff members should receive security training, especially with new equipment. They should be up to speed on how to manage any security systems that are in place, and who the appropriate contacts are in case of emergency. This is why intuitive, easy-to-use security technology is important: less training means your team is ready and your space secure with less investment.

As part of your church security plan, put together a team that can help facilitate the right procedures during different types of emergencies. Create a church security ministry team with staff and member volunteers from your congregation that have the skills and ethics to assist, such as people who have worked with social services, law enforcement, or medical professionals and first responders. Your security ministry team should meet to discuss protocol for different types of events, including regular services, holiday services, and private events. Assign each member of the team a specific role, so everyone knows what their responsibilities are for keeping the space secure.

A successful temple or church security plan addresses possible emergency events, and how you’ll handle them. Consider the different types of situations your congregation may face. These could include: burglary or theft, vandalism, suspicious person, natural disaster, and active shooter. It’s a good idea to create a system lockdown plan with your access control provider for each type of scenario, and communicate the protocols to your security teams.

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COVID-19 church security and safety

Places of worship were heavily affected by the pandemic in 2020, with many institutions temporarily closing their doors to accommodate new guidelines. Luckily, security technology can help synagogues and churches create safer, healthier spaces for their members.

With growing concern over spreading germs, touchless entry systems for churches are a great way to give members added peace of mind in their place of worship. With Openpath’s mobile credentials, users can unlock the door using the Wave to Unlock feature, which is 100% contactless.

Being able to manage your security system remotely is also an important factor of COVID-19 church security. With the fluctuating nature of guidelines, having access to your system from anywhere helps you respond to changes quickly and efficiently, without having to be on the premises. Remote access enables you to instantly issue or revoke credentials, temporarily suspend users in bulk, adjust door schedules, and view all access activity from any device.

In order to accommodate strict social distancing guidelines in churches and places of worship, religious institutions need to be able to track church occupancy, and limit the number of people allowed for in-person services. An occupancy management system can help achieve this by automatically detecting the number of people who enter a space, and either sending alerts to admins when the facility reaches capacity, or by automatically denying additional people from entering. An access control system like Openpath that has native occupancy tracking features allows church administrators to view occupancy data in real-time, helping to enforce social distancing remotely.

In addition to the above COVID-19 church safety measures, places of worship can use technology to automate and enforce screenings for congregation members prior to entering the building. Digital health questionnaires, temperature screenings, and pre-registration for church access can help church administrators ensure all visitors and staff are healthy.

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Key takeaways

Ensuring safety at places of worship gives congregation members peace of mind, and fosters a more welcoming church environment. Creating a church security plan can help staff prepare for different emergency situations, and can also point you in the right direction for the types of church security equipment necessary to protect your congregation.

This church safety and security guidebook serves as a great starting point to learn about the different technology available for places of worship, and the best ways to safeguard religious institutions from external security incidents and threats. These are the key things to look for when choosing an access control provider for a synagogue or church security system: 

  • A secure access control system that provides a welcoming environment. Look for access control that uses convenient mobile credentials, with an easy-to-use interface to make welcoming new members and staff effortless. Openpath’s touchless entry experience can also help congregation members feel safer when they come to church or synagogue.

  • Remote management for your system. It’s important to be able to control your church security system, even when you’re not there. A system with remote access allows you to make changes, view activity, and manage your facility conveniently from your device. 

  • Enhanced safety and security features. An advanced church security system should include lockdown capabilities, and easily integrate with other security systems such as alarms, gunshot detectors, and church video security cameras. Be proactive in preparing for emergencies with the Openpath Flexible Lockdown plan for places of worship.

  • Detailed reporting and real-time data. With features like attendance tracking and occupancy management, church security teams can easily see who’s on the property and when. This is also important to ensure proper social distancing in churches and temples during COVID-19. 

  • Look for flexible solutions designed to scale. If your security needs change, it could be expensive to replace the entire church security system. Invest in technology that’s future-proof, with software that updates instantly, and hardware that’s designed to easily scale up or back with your ministry.

Openpath is a leading provider of mobile access control solutions, with features designed to help safeguard places of worship. From touchless access at the door, to native occupancy tracking capabilities, to an award-winning Lockdown solution, Openpath provides advanced physical security on a future-proof, cloud-based platform. Wherever you are in the church security planning process, Openpath can help you identify exactly what you need, and provide a personalized price quote for your church security system.

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