Faith Community, Restaurants and Other Open Public Spaces Participate

In 2021, 61 active shooter events in the US resulted in 103 people killed and 140 wounded. In 2020, there were 164 events resulting in 38 dead and 126 wounded. These FBI statistics show an increase of 20 percent in active shooter incidents between 2021 and 2020. Today the frequency of active shooter incidents appears to be occurring at such a rapid pace putting everyone on edge.

More than 200 representatives recently participated in a two-part DC Government inter-agency Active Shooter Preparedness Training designed for local business and community groups, including places of worship, restaurants, performance venues, arts institutions and other types of public gathering spaces. The first part of the training was for faith-based partners, the second half was for public business and community spaces. The event was held on July 14 at the MLK, Jr. Library.

The training for public business and community spaces opened with MPD Senior Officer Dorian DeSantis asking for a show of hands for how many had a security plan for a life-threatening incident. Only three attendees raised their hands. When he asked how many did not have a plan, about 70 participants raised their hands. That brief survey was why this training was offered. Easy-to-adapt resources were offered for public spaces to create a plan.

“I want to talk to you about looking at your venue. That’s why we’re all here today,” DeSantis said, who was from MPD’s Special Operations Division-Emergency Response Team. Emphasizing preparedness, he added a valuable tip. “When going into a venue, look around first to see where the exits are.”

This training was not new. Mayor Muriel Bowser gathered city agencies in 2019 to address community threats to the District’s businesses and organizations. Creating the Interfaith Preparedness & Advisory Group (IPAG) was a part of that initial preparation strategy. A DC Government inter-agency coalition delivering the most recent training. Collaborating were the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD), Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency (HSEMA), Office on Volunteerism and Partnerships (ServeDC), an umbrella agency that includes the Mayor’s Office of Nightlife and Culture (MONC) and the Mayor’s Office of Religious Affairs (MORA).

DC’s Homeland Security evaluates active shooter incidents around the country and the world to ensure the agency is up to date on prevention and action techniques.

“This training is very important as we view active shooter situations throughout the country,” HSEMA Director Chris Rodriquez said. “As we look back over the last 20 years, major metropolitan area attacks have happened in Paris, Brussels and Barcelona. We prepare toolkits for organizations to ensure we get out all the latest information.”

Rev. Thomas Bowen is the director of the Mayor’s Office of Religious Affairs. When he was appointed, he clearly understood the mayor’s vision for collaboration among DC government agencies. Bowen ensures clergy knows that grants of up to $150,000 can be awarded to a faith-based partner or eligible nonprofit organization.

“Three years ago, Mayor Bowser tasked Homeland Security, MPD and our office to work with faith-based partners to enhance security efforts related to hate-based threats,” Bowen said. “At the urging and insistence of the mayor, we have made faith-based groups aware of possible funding and offered technical assistance to apply for that funding.”

Many places of worship in the District have security tactics constantly under review. Attending the session for faith leaders was Rev. Mahogany Thomas, executive minister at Peoples United Church of Christ in northwest DC. Peoples has both emergency preparedness and security teams.

“No matter where we go, we need to know what to do in the event of an active threat or shooting,” Thomas said. “As a religious leader, it is my responsibility to keep my people safe. The beauty of collaborative training, as we experienced, is that a lot of people came out because this issue matters. We can see common ground in that.”

Thomas said Peoples UCC’s head of security is a parishioner who is also an MPD officer. Church security measures include ways to communicate quietly during worship by using signals or through text messages if something looks suspicious. Thomas said what she can also do from the pulpit when welcoming worshipers is to take a moment to point out exits. The church views this as part of extending hospitality to everyone.

“Last week, Senior Minister Brandon Harris and I talked about an evacuation plan. We need to make sure folks know which doors will get them outside the building, not just outside the sanctuary.” Thomas said. “We also discussed which one of us would go out with congregants and who would walk around the building to ensure that everyone is out. It is our pastoral responsibility to ensure everyone gets out safely.”

  Rodriguez ended both training sessions by reminding attendees to access resources at Homeland Security’s website at www.hsema.dc.gov. Also, citizens can report suspicious activity by texting anonymously to #50411, through the website iWATCHDC.org or by calling 202-727-9119.

Brenda C. Siler Instagram & Twitter: @bcscomm

Brenda Siler is an award-winning journalist and public relations strategist. Her communications career began in college as an advertising copywriter, a news reporter, public affairs producer/host and a...

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