Pedophilia, disaster preparedness addressed at church safety conference
By CASSANDRA MICKENS/Associate Editor
NORTH SHELBY — Pastors and law enforcement officials gathered at North Shelby Baptist Church April 24 to address tragic “what-if” scenarios during a church safety conference hosted by the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office, the Shelby Baptist Association and the Shelby County Law Enforcement Chaplain’s Association.
Law enforcement consultant Russell Yawn, retired FBI agent Alton Sizemore and Stan Richardson of SERVPRO, a disaster restoration company, spoke to pastors about taking proactive steps to protect their respective churches and congregations.
Yawn, who spent most of his career investigating and arresting pedophiles, said church leaders must understand that anyone can be a child molester. Yawn also urged church leaders to develop a sex offender policy based on faith beliefs and ministries, and added that examples of such policies can be found online.
“The church is about forgiveness, but what happens when it becomes personal?” Yawn said. “Churches have failed our children in one way or another because we don’t think about this. We didn’t have to think about it in the past.”
Yawn said strict check-in and checkout guidelines, background checks, volunteer training and tighter security around children’s areas also are issues to consider. He said churches are easy targets for child molesters because several are desperate for volunteers and have easy access to children.
Yawn also said it’s important church leaders develop a response plan in the event that a member of the congregation is accused of child molestation.
“When pastors handle the matter internally, without a response plan, without involving authorities, the child is often victimized again,” Yawn said.
Following Yawn’s presentation, Sizemore, who specializes in cybersecurity, spoke to church leaders about protecting their electronic records. Sizemore said churches should develop good passwords that are easy to remember and are not a word in the dictionary.
“It’s very important that you take precautions,” Sizemore said, advising church leaders to install anti-virus software and firewalls. “The security of your computer or network is as strong as your weakest link.”
Closing the evening, Richardson of SERVPRO said the company’s mission is to “restore normalcy to the people” after natural disasters. He first shared a story about a church in Anniston that was firebombed and didn’t recover from the aftermath.
“It’s an example of a tragic situation without having a plan,” Richardson said.
Richardson said church leaders must ask themselves who can authorize work in the wake of a natural disaster. Also, “who are tradesmen who know about our property?”
In addition, church leaders should collect information about its water, power and insurance providers as well as the nearest fire state, police precinct and hospital in the event of an emergency.
“We hope against hope that it won’t happen to us, but hope is not a strategy,” Richardson said.