Sheriff gives church safety seminar

-Messenger photo by Kelby Wingert
Webster County Sheriff Luke Fleener gives a church safety seminar at Iowa Central's campus on Saturday afternoon.

A house of worship should be a place of welcome. A place of comfort, community, fellowship. It should be safe.

Some tragedies in recent years have shown that isn’t the case. Nine deaths at a Charleston church in 2015, 27 dead at a Sutherland Springs, Texas, church in 2017, 11 dead at a Pittsburgh synagogue in 2018, two deaths at a church near Dallas-Fort Worth in 2019.

Though you never want to imagine the worst happening, Webster County Sheriff Luke Fleener wants to prepare local churches and faith-based organizations.

On Saturday, Fleener, along with Webster County Emergency Management Coordinator Dylan Hagen, hosted a church safety seminar at the Bioscience and Health Sciences Building at Iowa Central Community College. Around 100 people attended.

“This issue is something that continues to happen around the country,” Fleener said. “When these events happen, they are so dynamic and sudden, so uncontrollable that even in the best-trained places, it’s hard to have a good script.”

Fleener’s goal was to give the participants the tools and knowledge to adapt to their congregation or group’s needs.

“Ultimately, we want to save as many lives as we can,” he said.

One of the first levels of security a church or faith organization can have is to greet people. Simply greeting a new person and taking note of unusual behaviors can be a deterrent or helpful in identifying a threat. Fleener showed through video clips of previous perpetrators of large attacks, that oftentimes, a person will fidget with clothing around their waist in order to conceal a weapon.

Fleener is a certified active shooter instructor and has provided active shooter training to over 5,000 law enforcement officers across the country over the last decade. He pulls from mass casualty events that have happened to provide training and learning opportunities.

There is no singular “profile” of an attacker, Fleener said, and while firearms are the most common weapons for an attempted mass murder, other weapons like explosives, knives and even vehicles are used.

So far this year, there have been 10 “active attack events” in the United States, Fleener said. According to the FBI, there were 40 active shooter incidents in 2020. The average length of these attacks, Fleener said, is usually around three minutes. Not unrelated, the average response time for law enforcement to these events are three to five minutes.

During the seminar, Fleener focused on what individuals can do to keep themselves safe until law enforcement arrives.

Being aware of alternative exits can help save lives. Oftentimes during a crisis, Fleener said, people will try to escape using the same way they entered. That obviously isn’t safe if an attacker is coming from that entrance.

“It’s being aware of your surroundings,” Fleener said.

The Sheriff explained the Avoid, Deny, Defend method of response. Avoid the attacker by running away and getting out of the area.

“If you can deny entry to where you’re at, do that. Put stuff in front of the door in between, make a barricade,” Fleener said. “Deny entry to where that person cannot get to you.”

And if neither of those are options, then defend yourself by attacking the attacker.

The seminar ended with a presentation on Stop the Bleed training by Terry Evans, emergency medical services supervisor for Fort Dodge Fire Rescue. Stop the Bleed is a training to teach civilians how to help save a life before a person bleeds out due to traumatic injuries caused by attacks or even just accidents.


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