Diocese assessing safety protocols for churches and schools
FORT WORTH — Churches and schools within the Diocese of Fort Worth, at the direction of Bishop Michael Olson, are being assessed for safety by a specialized security firm, in addition to steps undertaken to improve security already.
Although the Feb. 14 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida that left 17 dead served to highlight the increase of such tragedies, heightened security plans have been in the works for the diocese for some time.
“The recent pattern of acts of terror and violence perpetrated against churches and schools prompted some people to express their justly warranted concerns for safety,” Bishop Olson wrote in a Feb. 22 memorandum. “Sharing their concerns, I directed that each school and parish be assessed for safety.”
The findings of those security plan assessments revealed “considerable variation in their thoroughness and in the types of security to be employed” between the parishes and schools, Bishop Olson said.
For those reasons, Bishop Olson decided to engage a security firm to “assist the diocese in upgrading our particular security plans.”
After the Nov. 5 shooting at First Baptist Church in Sutherland, Texas, which resulted in 26 deaths, all parishes in the diocese revisited and improved security and emergency plans and contacted their local law enforcement agencies for additional recommendations, diocesan officials said.
“We knew this was something we had to move quickly on, the parishes and schools putting together a plan on how to address security issues,” said Steve Becht, diocesan director of real estate and construction. “Some plans were very sophisticated, some not so much. We knew we needed to work with experts to tell us how best to form and implement a uniform safety plan throughout the diocese.”
Churches and schools have been directed to monitor and modify their security plans as needed until assessments by the security firm can be completed and uniform guidelines adopted.
“It is each pastor’s and principal’s responsibility to make certain that the security plan is implemented and maintained,” Bishop Olson said.
Both are encouraged to initiate dialogue with their local law enforcement and first responders to ensure familiarity between them and the churches and schools.
“The security firm will work with the churches and schools to upgrade safety measures and make sure they’re kept up on a continual basis,” Becht said.
Parish and school officials have been extremely receptive and cooperative, Becht said.
“It’s been, ‘Wow! We’re glad you’re here and we want to talk about these issues.’” Becht said.
For example, Charles McGrath, president of Nolan High School said a safety audit of Nolan’s campus has begun, and that school officials are working to implement and upgrade initial security plan recommendations.
Becht said no timetable exists for full implementation throughout the diocese.
“Bishop Olson takes the safety of all parishioners and students very seriously,” Becht said. “We very seriously want to get this in place and done as soon as is practical. This is high priority, but it’s also not a knee-jerk reaction. This is permanent, so we want to make sure we’re as thorough as possible.”