Batavia's St. Paul Lutheran Church will cap off a week that has focused the nation's attention once again on the tragedy of mass shootings by hosting a special countywide training event tomorrow at its Washington Avenue church.
The Genesee County Sheriff's Office was invited to present training in CRASE -- Civilian Response to Active Shooter Events. Starting at 10 a.m. Saturday, congregation leaders will learn how to prepare and respond to an active shooter situation, should one occur at their respective houses of worship.
St. Paul Pastor Allen Werk, who has also served as the Sheriff's Office chaplain for about five years, attended national training in order to return to his community and in turn help train others. It is useful for schools, congregations and businesses alike -- open places that may be easily accessed by someone intending to harm people.
"This training affords congregation leaders the opportunity to come together to talk about ideas they may want to implement in their own churches should the unthinkable occur," Werk said in a press release. "We pray this will help all our churches be better prepared if the inconceivable happens."
CRASE Training addresses individual responses as well as group preparations. It has been developed in partnership with Texas State University and is funded in part by the U.S. Department of Justice.
Werk says the cornerstones are ADD -- Avoid / Deny / Defend. Participants are taught to quickly recognize a threat and to take evasive action by getting away swiftly or rapidly taking steps to deny access to a shooter, then defending lives in any way necessary.
"The training teaches you what happens, what to expect in an active shooter situation," Werk said, adding that it is beneficial in getting larger groups to think about this, to be aware of the potential, and what steps to take in response.
For example, the leaders of a congregation may want to limit access to worship services to one or two entryways, effectively funneling the foot traffic. They may consider the benefit of having greeters and ushers who are trained to keep an eye on who's coming and going in the building throughout the service; noticing and greeting a person -- a signal they have been seen -- in itself could be a deterrent in some cases, the pastor noted.
Taking cues from how others are responding in a public space is important.
"If you see something that could be a danger -- step up -- make the congregation aware, help provide safety," Werk said.
Asked if certain individuals should be armed, like a security detail, to counter an active shooter, Werk said that is not part of CRASE Training; and although it's widely argued that "a good guy with a gun" is what you want to have when a bad guy is wielding a firearm, Werk said that is something the organization itself must decide.
"We are pleased to assist Pastor Werk in educating congregation leaders on the appropriate actions to take should an active shooter situation arise," said Sheriff William A. Sheron Jr. in a press release.
Our news partner WBTA contributed to this story.