Sheriff's office provides critical incident training for Carroll churches

Sheriff's office provides critical incident training for Carroll churches
An audience of around 120 church leaders from the county attended the Sheriff's critical incident training for churches on Wednesday Nov. 15. (Catalina Righter / Carroll County Times)

Nearly 120 local religious leaders, almost double the expected audience, filled the auditorium of the Carroll County Public Safety Training Center Wednesday afternoon, looking down to the floor where Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Micheal Zepp spoke to them from his years of law enforcement and military experience on ways to protect their congregations in the event of an active assailant.

The Carroll County Sheriff’s Office hosted the Critical Preparedness Training in response to requests from church leaders following a shooting at a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, on Nov. 5 that left 26 dead and others injured.


“No place is off limits to those that want to actively assault,” Sheriff Jim DeWees said as he addressed the assembled group.

Dan Schaefer, of Mount Airy Bible Church, said his church formed a security committee about a year ago, and has attended several seminars. After 25 years in church leadership, he said he feels very responsible for protecting the congregation that he considers his family.

“Any time I can learn more about it and get it straight from law enforcement, I will,” he said.

Sgt. Michael Zepp acted as the primary instructor of the training session.
Sgt. Michael Zepp acted as the primary instructor of the training session. (Catalina Righter / Carroll County Times)

After the session, Schaefer said that several leaders from the church who also attended the seminar would sit down to make sure everyone was on the same page when it came to preparedness.

As church leaders, Zepp said, the assembled group would be looked to in an emergency situation when many people’s first instinct is to freeze.

“Whatever you do, you’ll have 20 people following you,” he said.

Part of emergency planning, he cautioned, is making a critical self-assessment of what you are actually capable of under extreme pressure.

“I’m not telling you to be heartless — you’re in the job of being passionate and having compassion,” Zepp said.

The two-hour session was not enough to turn a church leader into Navy SEAL, DeWees said, but it could spur them to form plans and mental habits that will help them react in an emergency.

“Think about it 1,000 times, walk through it 100 times, so you’ll only have to do it once,” Zepp said of emergency planning.

DeWees and Zepp recommended that religious groups form a security committee for their church. A committee can plan emergency strategies that fit the specific needs of each facility and congregation. Emergency situations are never predictable, so there is no boilerplate advice that will guarantee safety, DeWees said.

That is also a way that leaders can learn who in their congregation might have law enforcement or military background, and may be able to react more aggressively in an emergency situation.

Zepp said in a dangerous situation, a person will revert to one of two things: their highest level of training or human nature. That training is how military and law enforcement can be relied upon to run toward danger.

That’s also why, he said, law enforcement automatically assess their surroundings and are constantly aware of their situation.


“The biggest thing I want you to take away from today is that mindset,” he said.

During a question-and-answer session, one church leader spoke about the difficulty of choosing between the confidentiality that a church leader may promise to his parishioners and the duty to inform law enforcement about a potentially dangerous individual.

DeWees said he hoped the church leaders would reach out to law enforcement so they could “tastefully and tactfully” touch base with the individual.

Following the session, attendees took away a flash drive with information on emergency preparedness and a template for an emergency plan.

DeWees and Zepp urged church leaders to reach out to the Sheriff’s Office, which would be happy to do a walk-through of a church and review their emergency plan. The church can also chose to provide a layout of their buildings to be entered into a database used by all first-responders in the county.