KCMO church offers active shooter training

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- On Saturday, almost 100 people spent the day at Sterling Acres Baptist Church.  They attended a One Day Intruder Awareness and Response for Church Personnel session there.

The "pop, pop" sounds echoed through the hallway at Sterling Acres Baptist Church Saturday afternoon.  So did the man's deep baritone voice, yelling "Ken!  Where are you?" as he pushed open doors.

The gunshot sounds came from an airsoft gun.  And the baritone belonged to Bill Oliver.  And it was all a drill.

Oliver is an instructor with Strategos International. He and his co-workers lead training sessions like this regularly, often at churches, schools, and workplaces.

"Anymore in our society today," he explained, "you can't just say 'it's not going to happen to me'. "

After seeing the images from the Marjory Stoneman Douglas school shooting in Florida on Valentine's Day, many people registered for Oliver's training class.  The sign-in sheet listed 89 people.

The training itself was scheduled more than a month ago, after Sterling Avenue Baptist Church, coupled with the Kansas City Baptist Association, saw images from the church shooting in Sutherland Springs, Tx. In November of 2017.  Before that, it was the images of the Charleston, SC church shooting in June 2015, and the Sikh temple shooting in Oak Creek, Wisc. in August, 2012.

"We're being trained on how to make it feel safe," said Pastor Welby Jones, as he sat in the sanctuary of his church.

Roughly 90 people, including ushers, greeters, pastors of other churches, and even members of church security teams came to make sure it didn't happen to them.

In the morning, it was learning.  After lunch, it was doing.  Those nearly 90 people - some of whom were approaching their 90th birthdays - learned how to tie doors to keep them closed, push tables against doors, and also learned what to look for in a newcomer (who may be coming to do harm).

Churches admit this is not something they ever expected to learn.  Pastor Jones said "In seminary, 30 years ago, I never even heard of this.  But times have changed.

Jones discussed having to walk a thin line, between welcoming people - and welcoming hard.  "The dilemma is - we want to make sure that whatever we do in regards to security doesn't upend us from what our mission is, which is to touch people's lives."

But those learning how to tie rope to a doorknob think this training will only help them in that mission.

When asked what Jesus would think of active shooting training in a church, Jones was quick to respond.  "I think Jesus would say -'Don't lose sight of why you're here.  Don't let the world around you so frighten you that you lock down.'"

He continued, "But he would say be wise a serpent and gentle as doves.  We have to understand the times around us."

Becky Moyer was in the Saturday's training.  Her insurance company insures churches.  A few years ago, the questions she fielded from her clients included how to interview child care providers and how to safeguard copper pipes.

Now, the questions are about intruders.  "It breaks my heart, to be honest," she said.  "It's something churches need to be aware of."

Her top piece of advice to her clients is simple.  "Every church can benefit, even from just inviting their local police to come and walk through their building, and give them direction," she said, herself the daughter of a pastor.

"I always encourage churches to build a relationship with local law enforcement," she continued.  "The first time you want law enforcement in your building isn't when they're needing to respond to an emergency.

For Oliver, the instructor, his advice is even more simple.  "Personal awareness," he stated emphatically.  "Just be aware, be watching.  In the event something happens, or you see something, say something."