Jun 23

Improving Security in Houses of Worship

Improving Security at Houses of WorshipActs of violence directed at innocents are always shocking; such acts perpetrated in schools and churches shock the conscience even more deeply. The massacre at the Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, 2012 in Newtown, Connecticut changed forever school security. The murder of nine members of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church allegedly at the hands of a hate-filled racist named Dylann Roof has had a similar effect on places of worship across the nation.

Several months ago I was contacted by an orthodox synagogue on Long Island. They wanted to discuss how they could improve security while remaining open to all as a “house of G-d”. The incident they had which prompted their inquiry was strikingly similar to what happened in South Carolina before the shooting started. A stranger walked into their service on the Sabbath one Saturday morning. He sat to the side and appeared to be of middle-eastern descent. One of the members of the security committee saw him and, despite his initial misgivings, walked over with words of welcome. The congregant asked if he could help and offered to answer any questions he might have. The man was evasive in his responses and kept muttering “the G-d of Israel is the one true G-d”. The member sat next to this individual throughout the service ready to act if it became necessary. I identified this individual as a resident of the next town with a history of mental difficulties; more of a kook than a killer but put precautions in place just in case.

This story is not unique. This past Friday night, our company Global Security Group, Inc., sent armed guards to an event at a church hosting a Jewish congregation. The call was prompted by a similar incident. In this case the individual in question had an object that may or may not have been a weapon under his shirt. Although nothing happened, the incident so unnerved the congregation that they decided to hire guards for the times they hold services at this location. In addition, we have received calls from all houses of worship from literally all denominations across the country asking how they can keep worshippers safe. In addition, since most churches and synagogues have other daily gatherings and events; many offer education for children during the day and adult-study in the evening; they further inquire how to secure those events as well. And while each location requires an onsite assessment as to properly prepare a comprehensive security plan there are a few basic suggestions as to what steps can be immediately taken to improve security.

  1. Form a security committee, preferably with members of the congregation with relevant experience. Virtually every congregation has members either active or retired law enforcement or military.
  2. Identify congregants with concealed carry permits, former law enforcement is preferable. Former military as well. Remember, simply possessing a permit to carry a handgun doesn’t mean you can actually handle a firearm. Assess background, skill and level of training, particularly with respect to understanding the law governing the use of deadly force.
  3. Identify congregants with physical ability. Martial arts backgrounds, particularly wrestlers or Judo players. You want an attacker off his/her feet.
  4. Consider access control, even during worship. If the church/synagogue can hire armed security do so but make sure you get a fit, well-trained individual. If hiring security is not an option, use volunteers from the congregation.
  5. Create an active shooter plan. Most standard active shooter protocols DO NOT WORK in a house of worship. This is because the sanctuary is by design a large open room in which the congregation gathers to pray. There are no hiding places or areas of refuge. The usual recommended response of “run, hide, fight” is cut down to run or fight. The “run” part is impeded by the fact that most houses of worship have one main entrance and then emergency exits in case of fire. In a shooting the capacity of those exits would be overwhelmed. Even getting to one through the aisles and rows of seating would be impossible unless you happened to be close to an exit. What then are you left with? Fight. In the next article I will discuss how to maximize the effectiveness of the “fighting” component.

contact global security groupPlease contact us to consult on ways to improve security at your house of worship.