This training program emerged from the many requests to the sheriff’s office from HOWs for assistance in developing a safety plan following the June 2015 Charleston church shooting. The office developed such a program, and registration for the first session quickly reached maximum capacity. Given this overwhelming demand, the office is now planning to put the training course on the office’s website. Chief Deputy Todd Johnson, who is also a Baptist minister, did the background research and developed the “Safe Sanctuaries” training program, which has undergone revisions based on input from a focus group of local HOW leaders. The training is comprehensive, addressing other HOW safety threats in addition to an active shooter. The training covers medical emergencies, which includes having an automated external defibrillator on hand, given that the average age of most worshippers continues to rise. Also addressed in the training are hazardous weather and protection against hazardous materials.
The training emphasizes preparation for responding effectively to all of these eventualities. Regarding protection against an active shooter, concerns are heightened because South Carolina’s concealed- weapons-permit law allows individuals to carry a firearm inside a recognized religious institution, but only with the permission of the appropriate governing body of the HOW. The training covers how to develop such a governing body for churches that do not already have one. The training tools and methods used in South Carolina’s training course are described. The U.S. Justice Department’s National Institute of Justice is also developing an app to assist HOWs in developing a safety and security plan.