The Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security are teaming up to train priests and other clergy and religious leaders how to prevent and respond to active shooters and other violence.
The one-day workshops being held this month in Scarborough and Bangor will be open to religious leaders and staff members from all religious denominations, an announcement by the diocese said.
“These workshops will educate participants on incidents of violence that have caused disruptions at churches,” said Michael Magalski, director of the Office of Professional Responsibility for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland, who also had a career as a member of the U.S. Secret Service. “The day will include discussions about working with local emergency response teams, preparing communications protocols, and the best practices for planning and response.”
Participants will get guidance from Department of Homeland Security instructors on developing emergency action plans, identifying strengths and weaknesses in physical security, and learning how to prevent disruptive incidents by recognizing behavioral indicators.
The workshops coincide with the sentencing of Dylann Roof in South Carolina. Roof was found guilty last month of killing nine African-Americans during a Bible study at Charleston’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.
“I believe that incident, plus a number of other instances throughout the country, show that we have to start thinking about these possibilities in our houses of worship,” Magalski said.
Magalski, who spent 30 years in the Secret Service, joined the diocese three years ago. When he learned about the active-shooter training, he asked the Department of Homeland Security to host workshops for the diocese and other religious denominations in Maine.
“I think we have to make certain security and safety plans for our facilities, our corporations, our houses of worship, our schools,” Magalski said. “We need to put some thought into it now, because the worst time to start thinking about what to do is when something is happening.”
In similar workshops and online resources on active-shooter situations, the Department of Homeland Security outlines three possible options – run or hide or, as a last resort, fight.
The Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland includes 141 churches in 55 parishes statewide. Dioceses spokesman Dave Guthro said most have emergency plans, but this training will help update and expand those policies.
“The diocese wants to do everything it can to ensure that worship sites in Maine are safe,” Guthro said.
The Department of Homeland Security offers similar workshops across the country for many organizations and employers. According to a 2013 presentation on emergency operations plans, more than 250,000 houses of worship operate in the United States. The Washington Post documented eight mass shootings in religious institutions since 1980, including at a youth center, a Sikh temple and churches for various Christian denominations.
“It’s an issue every denomination faces in every house of worship,” Magalski said.
Identical workshops will be held Jan. 24 at St. Maximilian Kolbe Parish in Scarborough and Jan. 26 at St. John Church in Bangor. The workshops are free and open to all denominations. To attend, register by online at: portlanddiocese.org/sites/default/files/files/Scarborough2.pdf or portlanddiocese.org/sites/default/files/files/Bangor2.pdf.
For more information about the workshops, contact Michael Magalski at 321-7836 or [email protected]