Church Violence: What is the Cost of Inaction?

The head-in-the-sand mindset is misguided.

By Vaughn Baker
Strategos International

An Ohio newscast recently relayed the good news that multiple churches were receiving security training from law enforcement in order to protect their congregations.

“In this day and age, who knows what could happen, who could walk through the front door?” said one pastor. “Bombings and violence in churches – it catches your attention.”

We couldn’t agree more. That’s why we do what we do: Educate and equip churches, schools and businesses to be ready for the “what if?”

However, another pastor interviewed for the newscast said he was not worried and won’t be participating in the training. Why? He believes God will protect him and his flock. The pastor also believes violent acts haven’t “happened in our churches and wouldn’t for the most part.” Finally, smaller churches are less likely to be targeted, he said.

I truly wish that this pastor was correct and that we here at Strategos could close up shop. But we can’t. And here’s why:

It can happen here
There have been more than 1,000 violent incidents at churches since 1999 and a 600 percent increase in the last decade alone. True, the statistical likelihood of it happening to your church is small. But it was equally small for the churches where people were killed by gunmen. Statistics are cold comfort in those cases.

It can happen in rural areas
Over half of active-shooter incidents occur in rural areas. Even as rural as Nickel Mines, Pa. (population 43), where a gunman killed eight grade school girls in a one-room Amish schoolhouse.

God can use our planning to protect us
I’m not a theologian, but the fact that 99.9% of us lock our doors indicates we believe that God expects us to do something to protect ourselves. A verse that lends support to this is Proverbs 22:3:
“A prudent person foresees danger and takes precautions. The simpleton goes blindly on and suffers the consequences.”

There are numerous ways to protect a church. Churches don’t have to compromise their mission or their welcoming culture. It’s not all or nothing.

The newscast closed with a rebuttal from another pastor in the community. He spoke out against the idea that “it can’t happen here.”

“I think that it would be absolutely a travesty to take that position, because it can happen,” he said.


We’ll pray that it won’t, but will prepare in case it does.

Vaughn Baker is the president of Strategos International, a leader in training businesses, schools and churches to proactively respond to active shooters and violent intruders. The firm also evaluates facilities and overall organizational security to protect people and property. Let us know if we can be of assistance.


Strategos Security Minute: Enjoy the Game With Eyes Wide Open

Whether you’re at a political rally, a church service or a football game, it pays to be aware. In recent months, people who were shopping or attending concerts were shocked to be interrupted by violent intruders. Vaughn Baker, president of Strategos International, shares how you can enjoy the game with eyes wide open. Contact us to learn more.


Staying Safe at Public Events: Enjoy the Game With Eyes Wide Open from Strategos International on Vimeo.


Beyond Survival: You Can Prevail Over Workplace Violence

Hope is not a valid strategy to counter an active shooter at your church, school or business.

Someone is killed in a U.S. workplace, on average, almost every day. Yet many employers’ only strategy is to hope it doesn’t happen. Businesses, schools and churches can in fact do a great deal to stop workplace shootings before they occur. But some things are beyond the control of even the most prepared leaders. Because of this, we need to be prepared to prevail against an active shooter. Public service announcements and handouts aren’t enough. Strategos International has partnered with Sollah Interactive to create a truly unique and innovative workplace violence training initiative. The goal: saving lives.

Contact us to learn more.


Beyond Survival: You Can Prevail Over Workplace Violence from Strategos International on Vimeo.


Intruder Response: Contrasting ALICE with Get Out, Lock Out, Take Out

Are all training options equal?

With the rise in active shooter assaults has come a corresponding increase in training. But is all training equal? In the second interview in a series, Strategos Vice President Mark Warren contrasts the ALICE training method with Get Out, Lock Out, Take Out – the method developed and taught by Strategos. Questions? Please contact us.



Run, Hide, Fight? Or Lock Out, Get Out, Take Out?

Mark Warren of Strategos says training has consequences.

“Run, Hide, Fight” is a popular approach to intruder response training advocated by the federal government. While something is better than nothing, Strategos International believes this approach has serious flaws that could lead to confusion, injury or even loss of life. Strategos has developed an alternate approach: Lock Out, Get Out, Take Out. Vice President Mark Warren explains the differences between the two approaches and why they matter.

Contact Us to learn more.


If a shooter invades your world, what would you do?

The attacks on Virginia and California highlight the difference between safety and security.

By Mark Warren
Vice President
Strategos International

The shootings in Virginia and San Francisco again demonstrate the need for all of us to be prepared for our individual safety and security.

First things first: Safety and security are not the same things. Safety refers to procedures, techniques and training that prepare us for emergency situations such as a tornado, fire or flash flooding. It could even refer to safety guards on machinery.

Security, on the other hand, deals with manmade emergencies, such as the twin shootings on Virginia and San Francisco on June 14.

Who is the first responder? It could be you.
When a crisis of any kind occurs, the people directly impacted will be the first responders. Since they are the ones caught in the crisis, they will determine their response.

If you are caught in a tornado, you may determine that your best response is to head to a lower level away from windows and wait for the danger to pass. This response is based on your level of training and knowledge. If the structure is damaged or demolished, you may have to self-rescue and extract yourself from the building. You may have to treat yourself with first aid and figure out how to get yourself to a medical facility. But what if the hospital was destroyed during the same incident?

A massive tornado in Joplin, Mo., in 2011 was an example of this. People self-rescued, then assisted their neighbors, creating teams that continued rescuing others. Because a local hospital was destroyed, the proactive response of these citizens made a huge impact on life and death.

If you don’t have training and don’t fully understand the significance of weather-related dangers, you might stay outside to watch the tornado – to devastating results. But because you (hopefully) know better, you take action to limit your exposure to the threat.

What if you were the young man in 2003 hiking in a remote area of southeast Utah? While navigating a narrow canyon a boulder shifted and trapped his arm. He was unable to move the 800-pound boulder and was trapped for five days. He finally realized that his only hope for rescue was dependent on him. After running out of water he decided he would have to cut off his own arm. He was successful in freeing himself, rappelled 60 feet to the canyon floor, and walked five miles before being spotted and rescued by a helicopter. He was the first and only first responder. If he had been unwilling to take on the role of first responder, we would have likely found his body sometime later and held a nice memorial service for him.

It’s up to us to act. Are we trained?
In a manmade disaster where a suspect causes a crisis, it will be dependent on the people on the scene – the true first responders – to react. Without training, people don’t really know how they will react. Many times we revert to our basic instinctual response – fight, flee or freeze. Any one of these responses may or may not be correct. Doing the right thing at the wrong time could end in tragedy.

Typically an untrained person will suffer from being startled and afraid, followed by the onset of normalcy bias (attempting to rationalize the crisis away). This delays response and leads to denial. Once the true impact of the crisis is understood, people are so far behind the response curve they are often frozen, leading to panic and helplessness. This delay in response, due to a lack of training, are the crucial moments that could mean the difference between life and death. Said another way: Stop staring at the tornado!

In a trained response, the true first responder will still suffer from startle and fear. But because they accept the crisis, they will begin making decisions that lead to a better outcome.

  • They enter the crisis with a healthy sense of awareness to their surroundings. This, in and of itself, may prevent the crisis before it breaks out.
  • If the crisis occurs, they accept that it’s real and do not lapse into denial.
  • They recall their training and respond immediately, preserving seconds that can save lives.

By responding faster, they lessen the exposure to the threat and decrease the likelihood of injury or death. In other words: They saw the tornado, accepted the potential for loss of life and removed themselves from harm’s way.

The attack on members of Congress
The attack in Virginia against members of Congress at a baseball practice is a good example of what we’re discussing. There happened to be police present when the attack started due to Rep. Steve Scalise’s protection detail on the scene. But even though police were there when the crisis started, there were still at least two people injured by the shooter in addition to two officers who were shot.

During the crisis, the police focus is on stopping the threat and ensuring there are no secondary threats. In this incident, we saw the people caught in the crisis providing care for the injured and applying tourniquets to wounds.

This “tornado” had the ability to move and direct his attention and anger on the innocent people he was targeting. If the police had not been present, how bad could this have been? What procedure or practice would you follow if you found yourself caught in a crisis like this?

Strategos International is prepared to assist you in your preparation for these types of incidents. We also provide assistance with high-risk terminations, investigations, threat assessments, facility security assessments and training, including crisis casualty care.

Contact Us


Strategos trains Danville, Va., employees in crisis response

Critical topics included severe weather events and intruder response.

Strategos International provided training to more than 150 city employees in Danville, Va., this week, equipping them to effectively respond to a crisis.

“It was a privilege to partner with the city and we appreciate their proactive approach in getting employees ready for the challenges that come with public service,” said Vaughn Baker, president of Strategos. “Whether the event is a prolonged power outage or an active-shooter, preparation is key.”

Strategos International is a leader in training businesses, schools and churches to proactively respond to active shooters and violent intruders. The firm also evaluates facilities and overall organizational security to protect people and property.

Contact Us


The Strategos Security Minute: Dare to Be Aware

Your No. 1 Security Tactic Is Not a Weapon

What’s you’re greatest security asset? It’s not a weapon. Maybe not even a camera. It’s aware and alert human beings who work in your office, plant or school. They may even be volunteers in your church. Instead of shrugging their shoulders and turning their back on people who seem to be acting strangely, these employees are trained to observe and engage. By taking a proactive approach toward awareness, most violent confrontations can be defused. Is your team trained to observe and understand body language and the marks of suspicious activity? Aware employees are your #1 security asset.

Let us know how we can be of service.



The Strategos Security Minute: Do Guns = Security?

No American institution has escaped the carnage of active shooters. Schools, churches and businesses experience gun violence, threats and other forms of assault on a routine basis. It’s a no brainer that every organization needs a security plan. But do they need armed security? And if so, what role should armed security play? What kind of training should armed security members undergo? Vaughn Baker, president of Strategos International, addresses these questions in today’s Strategos Security Minute.


Intruder Response: Filling in the Gap

By Mark Warren
Vice President
Strategos International

In this day and age in our society, there is a recurring problem as it relates to school shootings as well as workplaces, churches, and other public domains. As a society we are constantly searching for solutions and trying to identify who should be responsible for carrying out the protection, safety, and security of our children and others.

We refer to these incidents by a number of names but as a rule it is generally called an active shooter. Do words matter? Yes, and I will tell you why. Prior to Columbine you never really heard the words “active” and “shooter” together, but now it is an everyday term used by many people. These words can have a direct impact on a person’s response, either in a positive way or in a negative way. If I train you to only respond to shots fired, I may set you up for failure, meaning someone will only respond to a threat of a firearm. However, we have seen incidents where other deadly tools have been used; knives, baseball bat, tire iron, so in reality you are training to respond to the threat of a possible homicide in progress. There is not a focus on the weapon being used, but instead, focuses on the potential outcome so that you immediately recognize the threat, assess the threat correctly, and respond accordingly.

There is a buzz phrase being repeated a lot lately: “When seconds count the police are minutes away.” Having come from a law enforcement background and understanding the limitations on all officers, there is a lot of truth to that statement. It is not meant to disparage public servants because every officer I have ever known in my 27-year career wants to help, but the reality of life is simple: we cannot be everywhere at once.

The good news as it relates to law enforcement response is we have learned from our past mistakes and continue to learn. Prior to 1999, police were not really training to respond to a school shooting. It took the death of 13 students and 23 more wounded on an April day at a school called Columbine in Littleton, CO. Law enforcement did what they had been trained to do: surround the building, maintain containment, and wait for a SWAT Team. Columbine had not been the first school shooting in the U.S., but we were resistive to change. We heard comments like “that won’t happen in our town” or “that happens only in big cities,” but it was a watershed moment because the public demanded to know what we would do “if” it did happen in our jurisdiction.

So across the United States, local police officers started training to respond to a school shooting. At first, there were many different thoughts on what the training should consist of. Many focused on firearms training; others focused on small element team tactics. After many years, the overall consensus now is simply that officers understand they can no longer stand by on the outside while homicides are being committed on the inside.

On the other side of the issue, prior to Columbine, schools typically did not have any type of intruder response plan or lockdown policy. As a result of Columbine, they started formulating their plans for lockdown. Just like law enforcement, there were many thoughts and various approaches to a solution for lockdown. There was one big difference with this solution: while we conducted regular fire drills to practice our response, we did not regularly practice lockdown drills. In many ways, the various lockdown theories had not been tested, and over and over in real situations, we still refused to learn the important lessons.

This is where there is a major disconnect in our intruder response theory. Here, in the U.S., schools and police do not regularly train together or develop their response plans in conjunction with each other. Most people view this type of incident as a law enforcement response issue. School personnel did not enter this career field to train to keep an intruder out of their school; they are unarmed, generally not tactically minded or aware, etc. police officers are supposed to take care of this problem. Again, while in theory, this is probably a very accurate thought process, but I have to ask one important question: What will you do until they get here? This is what we can refer to as “the time gap.”

So, does time matter? How long will it take to get an officer on scene to your location? Yes the police are coming, as fast as they can, but there are many factors that can impact their response time. Even if an officer is on duty at a school, he has to be notified of the incident, figure out where the threat is located, respond, and find the threat and stop the threat. We will hear numbers such as 5-10 minutes, which in most cases would be pretty accurate and that does not seem bad. It isn’t bad in the perspective of every day life, but in an emergency situation, it is a lifetime. If you don’t think it is that bad, I want you to take a deep breath, now hold it …..for the rest of this article. Now we start understanding the value of time.

How do I start to bridge the “time gap?” There are several things that will play directly into your ability to respond to an incident. First and foremost, we don’t want to rely on instinct; we want to train to overcome instinct. Our body’s natural reaction to a dangerous, immediate threat will often times engages the sympathetic nervous system, the “fight or flight” response. This reaction could be extremely detrimental because we are relying more on luck than an educated response.

The second thing to be done is remove the thought of “denial” from our thinking. The thoughts of “this will never happen here” does nothing to make you safer, but only allows you to push your head further into the sand so you can’t see the problems. Once you accept risk, you can start countering the risks.

Third, you have to maintain a level of awareness anytime you are out in public, at work, church, the mall, etc. What this means is you have to listen to that inner voice that is saying, “I don’t feel comfortable right now” and trust yourself. I don’t refer to this as instinct because we have spent our entire lives developing this ability to read situations and people. Each of us has various levels of intuition based on life lessons learned through our lifestyle, background, environment(s), etc. Do not try to explain someone else’s actions away or take them for granted. This ties directly into threat recognition (I see a man with a gun, sword, knife, and I recognize the threat), and that allows me to hopefully assess the threat correctly and respond. Many times people try to explain the situation or actions away so they feel better: “Oh look, there’s a man with a gun. Oh it must be a video production.” “This must be a skit or drama” (improper threat assessment). If you are in denial and have no sense of awareness this time spent failing to understand reality, and then making an attempt to rationalize someone else’s actions is delaying your possible response. Time is everything!

I want to give you two examples of time in actual events. The first is Columbine. The first shot until the two suspects were dead was a total of 49 minutes. So in this case they had a total of 49 minutes and full, free access to the entire school, so why weren’t there more fatalities and injuries? I am not down-playing the seriousness of the loss of life but it could have been much worse. If you listen to actual 911 tapes from Columbine, you will actually hear dispatchers asking teachers if they can lock and/or barricade their doors. The lesson learned from this incident should have reinforced how lockdowns did work and will work.

The second incident to look at from a time stand point set the record for the most killed in a school shooting; this was Virginia Tech University. In this incident, there were 32 killed and 27 wounded. The shooter planned in advance for a law enforcement response by chaining doors closed. When you review the incident, you find out that the 911 call notifying police of the second shooting at Norris Hall came in at 9:46 A.M., and two SWAT Teams as well as additional police officers were on scene at Norris Hall at 9:48 A.M. Therefore, you have two fully equipped SWAT Teams on scene at a school shooting in two minutes, which has to be the best possible response imaginable. To summarize, law enforcement set the record for the best possible response to an active shooter in a school, and the shooter set the record for the most killed in a school shooting by one man armed with only handguns. Was it a failed response by law enforcement? No, the failure resulted because there was no plan for failure by the school, and once the shooting started, the faculty and students did not know how to respond. The entire incident lasted approximately nine minutes. Look at the difference in time between the two incidents: Columbine 49 minutes, 13 killed, 23 wounded, Virginia Tech nine minutes, 32 killed, and 27 wounded. Even with the decrease in time, the outcome was very different. The “true first responder” – T.F.R. is the person on the scene when the incident starts, and their response will have the biggest impact on the success or the failure more than any other single issue.

The whole lockdown process is designed to prevent access to victims and assist them in bridging the time gap until law enforcement can arrive and intervene on their behalf. They are both working together to the same end: a good outcome. To put it another way, I want you to understand that by putting a trained response plan in place that you are actually controlling the process of your response to the incident. If you can control the process, you have a better likelihood for a good outcome. You never have control over the outcome, so it is imperative to control the process and guide toward a better outcome.

Let’s take a closer look at the process of lockdown and what it entails. In the course of the last 6-7 years we have had the opportunity to train over 17,500 school personnel in 15 different states, which represents over 375 various school districts and universities. This is what we have found out as it relates to lockdown policies: most policies state to close and lock your door, turn the lights off, move to the safe area of the room, and take roll call.

In theory it sounds pretty good but these theories are usually only written for the classroom and reality is you are not in your classroom every minute of every day. So, what about when you are in the hallway during passing period? The gymnasium? The theater? Outside on the playground at recess? Also when you closely examine the classroom, you have to ask yourself how does your classroom door lock? From inside the room or from the outside in the hallway? Do you have to use a key? If I have to use a key, and I am a substitute teacher, do I even get a key? So during an emergency, you are going to have to step into the hallway, take your key, and lock your classroom door, then step inside and start the rest of your process. Not bad, unless the threat happens to be in the hallway near your classroom. This leads us to the next dilemma: what do I do if I can’t lockdown or my lockdown is failing?

Every lockdown policy should have a plan for failure, and it should be a trained response. There are many reasons to plan for failure. For example, you are in an area that cannot be locked down, you were unable or incapable of locking a door, the intruder is defeating your door or lock, etc. Most current school policies are asking you to do no more than hide from an intruder protected only by a mechanical lock. When we ask principals what their role is during a lockdown, the normal response is they walk through the hallways making sure all of the classrooms are secured. This is very admirable, but this originated during training drills and now the belief has carried over that they should do this during an actual incident. When questioned further about what they carry, we get responses that include: my radio, my cell phone; all good, but what they forget they are carrying is their keys. On that key ring is a master key to every classroom in the school, so if they are the first casualty, the intruder takes his/her keys and now every lockdown has the potential to fail. We also ask custodial staff what their role is during a lockdown. The general answer is a shrugging of their shoulders with the response that no one has ever told them, but again, they carry a master key that could provide access to every room.

We teach a very simple failure plan that is easy to remember. We call it the “3-Out Approach.” This is a system of principles that can be applied at virtually any location, and the more you etch it into your thinking, it will provide you with the best responses in a given situation. The “3-Out Approach” is:

“LOCK OUT” – Can I lock this space down and/or barricade it to prevent or delay entry to me? If I cannot lock the space down, then I automatically default to option two of the –“get out.”

“GET OUT” – Can I get out or away from the area of the shooter? It may not mean leave the building, but get around a corner in a hallway away from the threat; then re-evaluate if you can get into a space that allows you to lock down. This means be aware of secondary exit points that may be around you. It doesn’t have to be a door but could be a window even if you have to break it out. If my “lock out” and “get out” options are failing, then I am left with the last resort option-“take out.”

“TAKE OUT” – You have no other option but to fight at this point and try to direct others around you to do the same. I know the question is “what do I fight with?” And the answer is simple: what ever you have available. This could be keys thrown or used to enhance the damage done with a punch, thrown cell phones, books, cups, staplers, hole punchers. Pens and pencils can be used as a stabbing device. What gives the intruders their strength is the fact that they have the gun, but they are also hoping for the easy victim(s) willing to allow them to execute them. We are not going to tell you that you won’t be killed or injured fighting back but what other options do you have? We have a saying: “You may get beat, but get beat doing something!”

Here is a quick example of using the 3-Out approach proactively. You decide to go to a movie theater to watch a movie. As soon as you walk into the theater, you ask yourself the first of your three options: can I lock this space out? You know that is probably not a possibility because of the design of the building. Also, you are a guest and have no keys or other options. So at this point, you are left with two options: “get out” and “take out.” You choose to sit in the top row, center seat to watch the movie and as more people arrive, they fill the row beside you. By choice you have just eliminated your “get out” option. Now you understand that for the next two hours, while watching the movie if anything happens, your response will be to fight. At this point, you do a quick mental checklist on items available to fight with and enjoy the movie. By going through the process to a point of making it a habit, you are much farther ahead of the fight than you would have been.

Once you have gone through the 3-Out options, you will have to prioritize all of your other actions. Let me give you an example, which one is more important: calling 911 or barricading your door? Even if you call 911, this will not prevent the intruder from gaining access to your location. The easiest way to assist you in determining which one has priority is to break them down into two categories: EMERGENCY and ADMINISTRATIVE tasks.

Here are the definitions of both of these:

Emergency (n.): A serious, unexpected, and often dangerous situation requiring immediate action.

Administrative (adj.): relating to the administration of a business, organization, or institution

The immediate actions needed as they relate to an intruder are to prevent access, have a plan for failure (3-Outs), barricading or reinforcing your lockdown, planning a get out option in case of lockdown failure, and preparing to fight.

Once the emergency tasks are completed and you feel confident you and others are safe, then we can look at administrative tasks: things like calling 911, making a list of missing and extra students, turning the lights off, treating wounded personnel.

We have covered a lot of information, and I hope I have made you think about your policy and response plans. We do believe that it is imperative to train and prepare as a “community response”. When these sad incidents happen, it affects the community from top to bottom. The shooter generally comes from the community and is known to people; he attacks a location in the community made up of children, teachers, and others who are from the community. And the immediate responders, police, fire and EMS personnel that respond are also community members. Therefore, the community will be directly impacted, have to respond to it, and recover from it. Unfortunately, it will be a long recovery process, and the truth be known: you never really fully recover.

Mr. Warren is the Vice-President of Strategos International and began his 27-year law enforcement career in the U.S. Army Military Police Corps. He has experience as an undercover operative, a tactical team member, and an instructor. He has been involved in the planning, implementation, and execution of hundreds of high-risk arrests, and spent five years with a large multi-agency task force working as an undercover operative and team leader. Mark was the Firearms/Use-of-Force Program Manager for his department.
Mr. Warren is currently a retired Sergeant from a local agency and was the 2000 Missouri P.O.S.T. Part-time Instructor of the Year.