Within the United States, there are approximately 345,000 religious groups that have about 150 million members that comprise more than 230 different denominations. Rural communities generally have small congregations, whereas urban areas have congregations that can exceed 10,000 members. Some religious facilities also provide Kindergarten through 12th grade schooling for youth.
In 2014 alone, there were 176 deadly incidents at houses of worship in the United States. The 2015 mass shooting at a church in Charleston, South Carolina took the lives of nine people.
The tips that follow are not exhaustive. At a bare minimum, entry points to the house of worship should be limited during meeting or worship times.
Here’s what we know:
- According to the U.S. Department of Justice, approximately 19% of all hate crimes recorded in 2009 were directed at the individuals’ religious beliefs.
- Prior events suggest that attacks targeting houses of worship are a real threat and can inflict significant harm on the perception of safety within the surrounding community.
- Attackers can use firearms, explosives, arson, vehicles, or homemade bombs. Other threats can include graffiti, theft, and the targeting of specific members and religious leaders.
- The large number of houses of worship, the predictable times of worship, the number of people gathered in a single location within the building, unrestricted access, and the absence of security, make houses of worship a “soft target” vulnerable to attack.
- Houses of worship have limited budgets available to addressing security issues.
Here’s what you can do:
- For larger houses of worship, consider forming a Safety Team comprised of volunteers from the congregation or church staff, with one senior member designated as the leader. The volunteer Safety Team will have assigned duties during worship services (and other events) and will be responsible for a particular zone or area of the building.
- Members of the Safety Team should be equipped with two-way radios. Radio protocol should be established and radio checks performed prior to the service or event.
- Consider security in “layers,” starting with a security survey that examines the Exterior, and works toward the Interior. The security survey will allow the house of worship to address any specific security concerns within a budget. (Contact Forensic Security & Protection, LLC for an initial free consultation regarding this)
- For the exterior, use planter barriers and decorative fencing. A qualified security consultant can assist with this.
- Photograph and then remove any graffiti as soon as it appears. Provide the photographs to the local police department and file a report.
- Install motion-sensor lights in dark or secluded areas. Cameras are also recommended, but first, seek the advice of a qualified security consultant.
- Trim bushes, shrubs, or trees around doors and windows.
- If a Safety Team is established, ensure that they are assigned to entrances and parking areas during worship times.
- Immediately report suspicious people, activity, packages, or vehicles in the parking lot.
- Points of entry should be limited to one. Other entrances should be secured.
- Secure the entrance at the beginning of the worship service.
- Consider installing a monitored security system.
- Limit access to childcare, offices, and other sensitive areas.
- Inspect doors and locks to ensure that they are in working order.
- Have solid core doors with steel frames installed at entrances to the building.