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Local church begins active shooter readiness training

Columbia, S.C. (WACH) --For many churches, Wednesday was the first time they congregated since the tragic events that occurred in Texas on Sunday.

The Texas massacre at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs resulted in 26 people dead.

Now, local churches join those nationwide in coming up with ways to keep their friends and family safe.

"The Texas incident really gave me a sense of emptiness," said Pastor Charles P. Austin, Sr. PhD of the Village of the Hope Fellowship Church in Columbia. "A 17 month old baby, a 5 year old...when someone walks into a household of faith and just randomly shoots people, that really drains you."

Dr. Austin says it is now the responsibility of churches everywhere to have a readiness plan available before something tragic can occur.

"The church has a role in addressing this problem," he said. "As much as we are into soul salvation, we must be concerned about our parishioners as they come and go."

Dr. Austin and his church now has its own security team, trained by local law enforcement with the City of Columbia Police Department.

They have installed cameras on the property, along with doorbells to be used after hours, since doors will now be locked.

The men also randomly patrol the grounds throughout the day and encourage women to not congregate after hours alone.

"As people come and go, look for signs of distress," said Dr. Austin. "Try to assist them in finding help. One of the key things is getting to know the people around you very well. We are the first line of defense by what we see and what we are willing to report."

On whether or not there should be firearms readily available in the church, Dr. Austin's feeling were mixed. He previously worked for law enforcement for years, but he is wary about a heavy firearm presence in any church.

"We believe that if we practice through education, security and prevention, we can minimize the possibility of a tragedy occuring," said Dr. Austin. "I don't know if anything can give you 100% security."

In the end, he and other pastors seem to agree that now is no longer the time to just pray, but to also be prepared.

"At least 100 people have been killed in the last 30 days," Dr. Austin said. "That should send a signal to somebody that we have a problem."

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