Many church goers falsely believe that when they enter into a house of worship, violence and terrorism stop at the door. This fallacy could not be further from the truth. Often times, places like mosques, churches, temples and synagogues inspire radicals to inflict violence to members and religious leaders that frequent these houses of worship. While it is impossible to predict the violent acts that may happen, it is possible to prepare for the future by taking serious measures to strengthen security.
A Threat to Worship
No religion or race is safe from hate crimes or violence in general. However, with all of the shootings, bombings and other acts of violence occurring in houses of worship and targeting religious individuals, there is no safe sanctuary among us. In countless stories all over the world, radical terrorists and criminals are making their move on holy places. From the mosque burning in Texas to the South Carolina church shooting, no one is safe from these horrific acts of violence.
It is time for worshippers and concerned citizens alike to realize that these houses of worship are no longer safe. A time for worship also means a time for action and awareness. Worshippers and religious leaders should never underestimate the danger of potential threats of violence to their sanctuaries. Churches, synagogues, temples and mosques must now become strongholds. Security must be strengthened and members must be prepared to do what is necessary.
Too often in cases of terrorist attacks and hate crimes, there were plenty of witnesses involved that could have stopped the attack. Instead, in these instances, members and bystanders are too afraid or too unprepared to cope with any threat. This must change if we hope to keep houses of worship safe. When worshippers are trained to be alert and to notice alarming behaviors, the potential for an act of violence is reduced significantly. Additionally, once worshippers and leaders reject the mistaken belief that houses of worship are off limits to those that seek to do harm, the mindset will change from “open target” to “a place of protection”.
Secure to Worship
It’s time to take up arms within religious establishments and do our best to secure the safety of its patrons. New security measures should focus on defense-in-depth training, target hardening, prevention and awareness training, certified vulnerability assessments, drills, threat assessment teams, private-public partnerships, updated emergency plans, certified security personnel and more.
Due to the unpredictable nature of terrorism and violence, it is absolutely necessary to prepare for the worst in all situations. Many houses of worship that suffer these types of attacks are without security or any sort of protection. While it may be part of the role of these establishments to promote a “come one, come all” mentality, it is necessary to be vigilant and be ready for what might walk through the doors.
Best Practices for Security within Houses of Worship
According to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, there are about 345,000 houses of worship in America. Thats roughly 150 million members and creates a huge opportunity for a terrorist attack or act of violence. When considering the first steps to take in prevention, religious establishments need to identify potential vulnerabilities and threats.
These threats can include accidents, natural hazards, vehicle-bone explosives, improvised explosive devices, assassination, arson, kidnapping, and biological or chemical attacks. Following the identification of potential threats, it is necessary to establish a team for threat assessment. This team should be comprised of facility personnel, mental health professionals, members that are involved in the services, and emergency responders.
Additionally staff should be trained and professional security should be hired either on a case by case basis or for any public event. As was mentioned early, prevention, preparedness, protection and mitigation should be focused on, as well as what to do in the aftermath of any attack or act of violence.
In the state of today’s increasingly violent world, it is absolutely necessary to take threats against houses of worship seriously. Should these establishments be closed to public to increase the safety of its members? Of course not, but it is imperative that religious leaders and their establishments take the issue of security seriously. Their lives may depend on it.