4 Ways To Improve Security at Your Place of Worship
June 1, 2019
Your place of worship serves families, individuals, and extended communities that can span from small towns to big cities. In addition to being a place for prayer and worship, this space may house precious historical and religious items, serve as a community center, and act as a refuge to those in need. Tasked with multiple responsibilities, places of worship must provide a secure, safe space for prayer, and serving the community as a whole.
Sadly, since 2010 the number of violent attacks on places of worship has grown substantially. Most recently, the April 27th attacks on Chabad of Poway Synagogue resulted in one woman’s death and 52 others injured. Mere weeks prior to this event was the March 15th attack on a Mosque in the New Zealand city of Christchurch, killing more than 40 people. According to the most recent FBI report, religious-based hate crimes have increased by 23%.
The staggering number of hate crimes and acts of terrorism directed at places of worship make a clear argument for increased security measures to be at the forefront of our thinking. Smart, proactive security designed to prevent threats and enable real-time responses are vital to the safety and well-being of places of worship.
We know that many leaders of religious organizations are now scrambling to increase security but don’t know where to start, so here are 4 steps to help get you from scared to secure.
1. Determine your security needs
The key to implementing a security plan for most religious organizations begins with an honest, as-is assessment. Churches, synagogues, mosques, and other religious organizations exist in towns and cities of all sizes, serving parishioners from varied demographics. The diversity of where a house of worship exists and whom they serve creates many variables in security needs. For instance, a congregation in a major metropolitan area with a large campus might need to consider physical barriers, i.e., fencing, and armed guards, as well as security surveillance technology, i.e. HD cameras, monitoring, and surveillance technology.
In conjunction with a committee (more on that below), you should start with a thorough assessment of how and when your spaces are used. Take into consideration areas like your property line, how many rooms are inside the building, how many people on average are inside on different days, and of course childcare areas. Review what security concerns you have for the property as a whole and within each space. And if you have security protocols already in place, look at them critically to determine if and what can be improved upon.
Additionally, reach out to the local community around you for support in your security enhancements. Engage local law enforcement in the process and invite them to take part in your assessment as they’re usually happy to help at no cost. Include other religious leaders from your community to help expand your knowledge base and learn from their mistakes and best practices.
2. Develop a security plan for your congregation
Once you’ve determined your level of risk and understand your needs, it’s time to create a plan that is appropriate for your congregation. At a minimum, your plan should take a multi-pronged approach that includes: physical barriers and security personnel, the type of cameras and monitoring system you’ll need, and what the congregation would need to do in the event of an emergency. Using a multi-pronged approach can help to both deter threats and trigger appropriate responses when a real threat is detected. During your assessment and planning, you should:
- Start with your perimeter – Adding physical barriers, like decorative security fencing can be paired with HD security cameras and enhanced monitoring systems.
- Review doors and entry areas – Reducing the number of entry points to a space helps reduce the number of doorways needing to be monitored.
- Invest in technology – Proactive security is a crucial component in building out your security plan. Using HD cameras in as many places as possible for maximum coverage, paired with an active monitoring system (such as Defendry), can detect active shooters and initiate a real-time active response plan.
3. Engage the community to implement the plan
As most places of worship rely on volunteers to function, they are generally very active in getting members of their community to volunteer. Think about creating a security committee that might include congregants, religious leaders, local law enforcement, and security professionals willing to volunteer their time. The purpose of this committee is to help plan, implement, and maintain your security program.
In many cities, local law enforcement units are very happy to spend time teaching safe emergency response plans to groups of people in high-risk environments, so encourage committee members to participate in emergency response training that is appropriate for your organization. You can and should seek guidance from your local fire department, police department, or emergency management agency.
Another important way to engage the congregation is to transparently address their fears about safety. Consider hosting open Q&A with the congregation to present the security plan, introduce the members of the security committee, and answer their questions. You may be surprised to find out that your local religious leader already has a plan in mind, but may not actively speak about it simply because they don’t want to scare anyone. If the leadership at your place of worship has a plan, it may feel encouraging to understand the protocol they have in place. If they don’t yet have an emergency plan, your conversation could help get the ball rolling.
4. Regularly update your plan
Unfortunately, security threats will not remain static, nor will they go away. Maintaining your security measures, revisiting needs, and staying vigilant is equally as important as the plan itself. Due to this, you should consider your security plan a “living document” that will need to be changed as security needs evolve.
The security committee should schedule time on a quarterly basis to revisit your plan and discuss any changes since the plans’ last review. You can use this time to discuss new or emerging concerns, and establish where adjustments are needed. Review the performance of security technology and determine what, if anything, can be optimized to better serve your congregation. Your plan should evolve to best serve your organization and community.
The decision to make security a priority is a crucial first step in creating a safer, more secure environment for your congregation. Defendry is here to support you in this endeavor and is happy to address any questions you may have about getting started. Feel free to contact us at any time.