More Western Pennsylvania churches get behind shooter response training

Updated 7 hours ago

Church-based training for active shooter scenarios is now getting denominational support in Western Pennsylvania.

The Greensburg-based Penn West Conference of the United Church of Christ said it is inviting its “ecumenical partners” to participate in a March 17 security training event at First Reformed United Church of Christ, 312 S. Maple Ave., Greensburg.

The training, based on the popular ALICE model, will be provided by instructors certified by the ALICE Training Institute of Medina, Ohio. ALICE stands for alert, lockdown, inform, counter, evacuate.

The Penn West Conference, which covers 28 Pennsylvania counties and Northwest Maryland, is offering the training partly in response to the November 2017 shooting at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, said the Rev. David Ackerman, conference minister.

“Earlier in the year, we started a conversation about it. The shooting in Texas certainly brought it to the foreground of our minds. When that event happened, it created a sense of urgency,” Ackerman said.

The urgency, however, should not be confused for paranoia or fear, he said.

“We are Christian churches — we are not seeking to provoke fear. Gun violence in our day and age is such a horrific thing, and our faith does have things to say that we can bring to bear on this issue,” Ackerman said.

Nonetheless, the concerns from clergy and lay people within the UCC and other denominations are real, he said.

“Having this training can provide people with a sense that they can do something to increase church security, without causing people to push the panic button,” he said. “We don’t want to foster fear, but we don’t want to leave those concerns unaddressed.”

The ALICE training also was promoted in the latest newsletter of Christian Associates of Southwest Pennsylvania , an ecumenical organization whose members include Roman Catholic, Byzantine Catholic, UCC, Presbyterian, Episcopal, United Methodist, Lutheran and Eastern Orthodox churches.

Other churches in Westmoreland County have already availed themselves of training by certified firearms instructor and Bolivar native Rodney Smith, who is returning to the area this month.

Smith, founder of the Georgia Firearms and Security Training Academy, teaches a three-hour course on church security, situational awareness and less-than-lethal defense, as well as a 16-hour course designed for firearms permit holders.

ALICE bills itself on its website as the “accepted response, versus the traditional ‘lockdown only’ approach.”

“Typically, places of worship are seen as a sanctuary or safe haven, but the reality of today is that places of worship are just as vulnerable to active shooter events as schools and businesses. Generally, there are very low measures in place for detecting threats,” according to the website.

While Ackerman supports the ALICE training, he stops short of supporting guns in churches.

“I personally don’t see the answer as people being armed in our churches,” he said.

Sponsors for the ALICE training are Donald Hamm & Sons Insurance LLC, of Carnegie, and the Insurance Board, which provides general liability coverage for churches in the UCC, the Presbyterian Church (USA) and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).

The March 17 training, scheduled from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., includes an e-learning component that must be completed in advance. An online link will be provided to those who register, and it takes about 20 minutes to complete.

Registration is limited to four participants per congregation. To register, send an email to Don Hamm Jr. at .

Stephen Huba is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-850-1280, or via Twitter @shuba_trib.

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