Best Practices for Installing Security Cameras at Your Church

How to make the most of surveillance technology.

In this interview with Nathan Parr he shares his insights on security cameras. Nathan spent 12 years as the operations manager for the 4,000-member First Baptist Church of Belton, Texas.

How many security cameras do you have at First Baptist Church, and where are they located?
We have 54 active cameras throughout the entire complex. You can’t come inside our main campus without being on camera. You enter any door, and I can track you throughout the entire building until you leave. I can do that with only 54 cameras on our main campus that takes up about two city blocks. It’s about 115,000 square feet.

Why does a church like yours need 54 cameras? Why do you need to track me from the time I walk in until the time I leave?

Cameras, they’re passive. They record data; that’s all they do. They interpret and don’t act upon it. We have them as a way to determine what has happened if we have a concern, but also as a way to determine who might be doing something. At every entrance, we have a small sign that says, “Be advised, all activities are monitored by camera.” So someone walking in is alerted that they’re under observation.

Are these cameras monitored live or do they mainly record for future reference?

Typically, we do not actively monitor our camera system. We have the capability of doing that if we need, but if you’ve ever tried to monitor multiple cameras at once with a lot of people, it’s never practical or easy. But we also—after major events like Vacation Bible School—have the capability of downloading and saving all of what the cameras saw from when the kiddos got here to when they left. We can burn it onto a DVD and store it in an external hard drive, so if there’s anything that comes up later, we have a way to go back and look.

What would prompt that? Something like child sexual misconduct allegations?

That, or if a child got injured. In a large church that’s very active, kids and even adults get injured every now and again. Sometimes you have people who are looking at large organizations and thinking, They’ve got money. They’ve got insurance. Let me claim that I had a slip-and-fall. Well, we have cameras everywhere, so we can tell. If we had a wet floor sign and you ignored it, or if we had tape up and you ignored it and hurt yourself, or if you just magically fell for no reason, we’ll probably have the video of it. It’s mainly a passive security insurance to protect us.

How costly is it for a church to install a security camera system and maintain it?

If [a church is] willing to do the work themselves, the components are like any electronics: The price keeps coming down further and further, and some of the old technology is even cheaper now because it’s already been replaced by new, digital technology.

Do all churches, regardless of size and circumstance, need cameras?

I think it is a sound investment for every church, absolutely—just for the safety aspect of having a record if something were to happen. Obviously, you don’t want bad things to happen, but you have to be realistic. We live in a broken world; that’s why we exist and why we’re here and have churches. If we’re doing our job, we’re going to be under attack: physical, spiritual, etc. A camera system, once you install and maintain it, [is] watching over you and recording without you having to worry about it. If something were to happen, you have a way to look and see what happened. I think that’s well worth it.

Let’s say I work for a church that doesn’t have cameras and would like to add them. What process would you recommend to begin installing them?

It starts with making the decision as a church to say, “You know what? We want to have the cameras.” There are people in churches who think this level of security is too much. But make a decision that you want to do it, and from there, look at how much you need to do the basics. Protect what has to be protected first. So if you can only do a couple of cameras, and you’re not super busy during the week but have staff inside, put enough cameras up to watch the doors that people come in and the office area where people work. Then your children’s areas are your next critical areas.
Then expand it as you can. I would advocate, again, spending extra money on memory so you’re not having to buy bigger and better DVRs. Think ahead. The way I did it, we added encoders so I’d have everything I needed without swapping equipment. If you have a small budget, get the best analog camera system you can buy. Then upgrade the IP (Internet protocol) when you can afford it.

Anything else you haven’t covered that would be important on this issue?

People think, Now I’ve installed a camera system and can relax. My advice always is that safety and security is a continual process. You should always be looking on how to improve and do better and more of what you’re doing. Consider your first camera you install [as] just the first step in a safety and security culture, not the end state.

For more on the benefits of installing security cameras at your church, see this article.

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