COLUMBUS, Ga. (WRBL)— Columbus Police and emergency management officials provided a crash course Monday night in responding to an active shooter in one of the most unthinkable places; church.

“20 years ago you would’ve never think of an active shooter of walking into a church, we tried to give them the tools, and the ideas, and ideals to protect themselves as well as the congregation and teach them the importance of training and to have a plan in place in case something of this nature were to happen in their church,” the speaker of the event, Columbus Police Department Lt. Tim Wynn, shares.

Police officials cited the rise of mass shootings across the U.S., like the 2015 shooting at a Charleston church that left nine people dead.

Police addressed groups from churches around the city, teaching them how to react to an active shooter.

The number one lesson? Always remain aware of your surroundings, especially around new visitors.

“We want people to know who were not in attendance to be on the lookout, be alert, and to welcome people into your congregations but also be alert of who’s coming in,” said Columbus Police Department Assistant Chief of Police, Joyce Dent-Fitzpatrick. “This event was put on to be in touch with the community to let them know that we care about their safety, and their churches, and their environment. Also, this week is Georgia’s Cities Week and we’re showcasing things that we do for our community in the state of Georgia.”

Dent-Fitzpatrick went on to share the importance of this event, saying no area is safe from a crisis.

“We want them to understand that no one is immune to an active shooter. Church used to be our safe haven, but we have people come in that want to destroy,” she says.

Lt. Wynn shares everyone should remain vigilant in their environment, and highlights key takeaways from the event.

“I guess situational awareness is probably the best thing. Be aware of your surroundings and try to have a plan in place that these ‘what if’ situations happen,” Lt. Wynn says.

Lt. Wynn says church leaders should make a plan and practice it often. He also shared some safety tips to remember:

  • Always locate potential exits when you enter a room.
  • In case of an active shooter, use surrounding items to defend yourself. Put things in front of the door–Wynn says the heavier, the better.
  • And when police arrive, follow commands, show your palms, and do not make erratic movement.