Protecting Your House of Worship from the Threat of Terrorismbeing there // on Tuesday April 11, 2017
This past weekend, two churches in Egypt were bombed during Palm Sunday services. The bombings killed more than 40 people and injured more than 100. Although these tragic incidents took place thousands of miles away, they serve as an important reminder of the ever-relevant threat of terrorism by violent extremists, and why it’s important to take this issue seriously.
This article, originally posted in June 2016, helps raise awareness of the threat of terrorism and the steps your organization can take to protect staff and members.
As places of public gathering without extensive security protection, churches and houses of worship are generally considered “soft targets,” much like shopping malls, restaurants, stores and theaters. The Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary defines a soft target as “a person or thing that is relatively unprotected or vulnerable, especially to military or terrorist attack.”
Even in times of tragedy, your church doesn’t have to feel helpless against threats of terrorism. A few key actions – education, assessment and planning – can help your organization prepare for potential threats.
Understand the threat of terrorism, which may vary by the geographical location of your facility. In addition to mass shootings, terrorist attacks also may include explosive devices, chemical or biological threats, nuclear or radiological dispersion devices, and cyber-attacks. General information on the terrorism threat is available on the Department of Homeland Security’s website. While terrorist attacks with chemical, biological, nuclear or radiological agents are possible, the likelihood of such events occurring at your facility is not high. Thus, it makes sense to broaden your plan to consider the range of emergency situations that could take place.
An important starting point is to identify the potential hazards that your organization faces and assess your vulnerability to them. While the threat of terrorism is real, be sure to also assess the common emergency situations that your organization is more likely to face, such as medical emergencies, fires, extreme weather and natural disasters, as well as an active shooter situation. Consultation with your local law enforcement agency may be beneficial in conducting a security assessment of your facility. Many agencies are willing to assist churches in such an assessment and provide recommendations for improvement in security.
After the assessment is complete, develop an emergency plan for your organization to address the various threats identified in the assessment. In your plan, consider actions such as evacuation, shelter, lockdown, and how you will communicate with your congregation. Consider your security plan and the level of protection that you feel is appropriate for your location. For some churches, that may include the presence of off-duty law enforcement officers, armed professional security or trained volunteers.
GuideOne recommends two resources that can help your church prepare for such an event: GuideOne’s Sample Emergency Action and Recovery Plan for Religious Organizations and the federal government’s Developing High Quality Emergency Operation Plans for Houses of Worship.
The recent terrorist attack serves as reminder for all organizations to be vigilant. Pay attention to the people entering and exiting your facility before, during and after services and special events, and heed this direction from the Department of Homeland Security: “if you see something, say something” to authorities. Additionally, take time to revisit your organization’s emergency plan and prepare for the various disaster scenarios that your church could potentially face.