New security role tightens school and parish safety

Upon walking into the entry lobby of Life Safety Solutions in Palm City, one can’t help but notice the floor to ceiling shelving lined with automated external defibrillators (AED). Troy Church, site safety and security advisor at Life Safety Solutions, jokingly remarked, “This is our museum of sorts of AED equipment that we’ve used over the years. You can find just about any model of AED here.”

For Church, however, safety and security are no laughing matter.

As a newly retired lieutenant from St. Lucie County Sheriff’s Office with experience as criminal investigator, dive team, Marine unit, SWAT, school resource officer, court security and patrol officer, Church brings a range of safety and security experience to the Life Safety Solutions Team. His unique background was exactly what the Diocese of Palm Beach was looking for to fill a recently created full-time position that will oversee the safety and security of the diocese’s Catholic schools and parishes.

The Diocese of Palm Beach Office of Catholic Schools was especially eager to bring Church on board in efforts to better support school administrators with on-campus safety and security procedures. Church’s role is to equip administrators, teachers and school facilities with appropriate supplies and plans for prevention, preparedness, response and recovery related to a medical or security incident.

“When it comes to incident response training at the Catholic schools, I approach it with the mentality of expanding on what teachers already know. As educators, they undergo a huge amount of training already, like how to make a classroom a safe environment, how to identify signs of emotional and mental distress in students and what objects might be potential hazards for students at varying ages. I’m building on these basics to elevate safety for a larger level of crisis,” said Church.

Reaching out to Life Safety Solutions for a site safety and security advisor was an obvious choice for the diocese. The company consists of former law enforcement, firefighters, EMTs and active shooter responders with hundreds of years of collective experience. Life Safety Solutions currently serves NASCAR, the PGA Tour and Publix Supermarkets, and manages more than 1,500 AEDs in these facilities.

What makes Life Safety Solutions stand out from other safety and security companies is their specialty in serving Florida dioceses such as the Dioceses of Venice, Pensacola and Orlando. Many of the company’s staff are Catholics within the Diocese of Palm Beach with knowledge of security for places of worship. For example, Church is a graduate of John Carroll Catholic High School and a parishioner of St. Bernadette Catholic Church in Port St. Lucie.

Part of Church’s role in serving the diocese is conducting building and security assessments at the Catholic schools and parishes. The matters Church reviews range from preparedness for extreme weather, replacing EpiPens, managing AEDs, reviewing building hazards, managing accessibility for individuals with special needs and so much more. “When these things are not kept up to code, they become the building blocks for a larger incident. It’s my job to correct it before it becomes a bigger issue,” said Church.

The most vital issues Church addresses are school lockdown and evacuation plans. “My team and I are in the process of meeting with each principal at the schools to review their security assessment reports and on-site evacuation plans. Part of this entails walking administrators through table-top exercises and interactive scenarios. We also work with them to identify school staff that will act as crisis team leaders and develop effective ways of logging students’ and teachers’ daily whereabouts so that everyone is accounted for in case of emergency,” said Church.

Jim Kelly, executive vice president of safety and security at Life Safety Solutions and former Palm Beach County School Board chief of police, emphasized the effects of the Parkland shooting on the measures taken for school lockdowns. “A lot of fear was transferred to the Catholic schools in the southern end of the diocese that are close to Parkland. This is an example of how incidents in proximity to the diocese affect how we prepare for everything,” said Kelly. “The most important thing is to develop a relationship based on trust with the schools and parishes. I encourage the crisis team leaders to pick up the phone and call as for any questions or concern they may have. Their safety is our priority.”

Church and Kelly noted that their expertise for school safety also applies to affiliated parishes. “Recent attacks have raised a new awareness on places of worship, which we are approaching in conjunction with the schools. Parish staff are the first line of defense simply by training them in situational awareness. Ushers, lectors and so on are being trained to look for signs of security breaches,” said Kelly.

Dave Magruder, president of Life Safety Solutions, commended the diocese for its outstanding efforts to improve safety and security measures for its constituents. “The Diocese of Palm Beach has really stepped to the forefront in the safety and security arena regarding religious institutions. Bishop Barbarito has committed to supporting our efforts financially and in personnel to ensure the safety of the faith community,” said Magruder.

Currently, the Diocese of Palm Beach is the only diocese in Florida that requires staff in every school to be trained every two years. In addition to formal training, the diocese’s Human Resources department implemented a new safety webinar in early July for pastors, teachers and parish staff. “I can’t stress enough how important it is to stay up-to-date on new security measures and codes. Our team is constantly attending safety conferences and reviewing legislature on security, so we pass on new information to the schools and parishes when we learn it,” said Magruder.

“When a crisis occurs, the crisis takes the stage. People only see a small part of the good being done. Ours is a small part, with huge impact,” said Church.