Protecting NYC Houses of Worship: A National Model

May 21, 2018 Updated: May 22, 2018

Although houses of worship in New York City, and throughout America must have a welcoming and serene environment, this must always be balanced with sound security measures.

It is a different world and not making efforts to enhance security in houses of worship is naïve, irresponsible, and irrational.

Our houses of worship are sacred places of prayer where we exercise our constitutional and human right to pray.

But we must be realistic, blending the spiritual with the practical, and do everything possible to protect our houses of worship.

All who seek solace, peace, and community within the hallowed halls of our houses of worship deserve our leadership, vigilance, and commitment to protect them.

Houses of Worship: Security Practices

A U.S. Department of Homeland Security document titled “Houses of Worship Security Practices Guide” released in May 2013 deserves attention.

The document notes that there are approximately 345,000 religious congregations in America.  These consist of about 150 million members from more than 230 denominational groups.

The guide stresses that the first step to developing a comprehensive plan for a religious facility is to identify threats and vulnerabilities.

According to the guide, the threats include natural hazards, accidents, targeted violence, improvised explosive devices (IED’s), vehicle-borne explosive devices (VBIED’s), arson, chemical or biological attacks, assassination, or kidnapping.

The guide continues with the importance of having a threat assessment team comprised with a combination of facility personnel, members involved with services, mental health professionals, and emergency responders.

This document is outstanding and should be a resource for training staff and enhancing security measures.

The guide also includes details on prevention, protection, mitigation, preparedness, and recovery.

Recommended Best Practices: ASIS International

The collaboration of our houses of worship, law enforcement, and private security should include learning implementing “Recommended Best Practices for Securing Houses of Worship” by ASIS International including the following:

  • Report suspicious packages to police, and do not touch any suspicious package. Develop a suspicious package protocol with instructions on reporting to police as well as not touching or moving the item. Address this issue in emergency evacuation procedures
  • Request local law enforcement presence during high volume worship times and holiday celebrations.
  • Include law enforcement in your security planning process.
  • Consider hiring off-duty police officers as part of your security program.

Simply stated, a word to the wise urging vigilance: “To be forewarned is to be forearmed.”

Security Countermeasures: Some Additional Tips

A robust security program must be comprehensive, proactive, and continually updated. Security must never be piecemeal, negligent, or have its importance minimized.

Approaches to security in houses of worship, as well as in workplaces, schools, campuses, and facilities, must include the following:

Security Vulnerability Assessments: These are best when conducted by board-certified, reputable, and experienced public safety professionals in order to identify and evaluate areas of risk.  The board certification of a Certified Protection Professional (CPP) by ASIS International is a statement of professionalism, competence, and credibility.

Background Checks/Investigations: This is an essential due diligence countermeasure that prevents hiring individuals who do not deserve employment or access. These checks must be made by qualified, licensed professionals who honor laws conducting background checks. Background checks can include criminal history reports, drug testing, motor vehicle driving records, credit checks, liens and judgments, sexual offender registries, employment, and professional credential verifications.

Investigations that include surveillance, interviewing, and information sources by experienced, conscientious, and ethical professionals are critical to protecting public and private enterprises.

Training: A critical component of security and safety is ongoing training that includes personal safety, substance abuse awareness, domestic violence, diversity, conflict resolution, ethics, situational awareness, Internet security, workplace violence, fire prevention, crisis management, emergency preparedness, loss prevention, economic crime, crime prevention, drills, evacuations, sexual harassment, and warning signs.

Warning Signs: Warning signs are critical to violence prevention.  We must recognize warning signs and provide the necessary intervention, training, health care, and security measures necessary to prevent tragedies.

Physical Security: This involves countermeasures preventing unauthorized access.  Countermeasures include fencing, bollards, barrier arms, card access systems, ID cards, lighting, crime prevention through environmental design (CPTED), defense in depth programs, locks, alarms, fire extinguishers, Automated External Defibrillators (AEDs), mass communication systems, and metal detectors.

Personnel Security: Certified, well-trained, and licensed security officer programs involving reputable contract or in-house professionals with either armed or unarmed personnel.  It is essential that training exceed the status quo criteria, and is ongoing.  Training must also be motivational and customized according to the needs of the sites being served.

Procedural Security: Drills deserve planning and evaluation with table-top exercises. It is also essential to conduct partial and full-scale drills based on numerous possible scenarios. These must be complemented by the expertise and involvement of law enforcement, private security professionals, and first-responders.

Essential to training and drills is the Active Shooter program detailed on the FBI website titled RUN, HIDE, FIGHT.

Informational/Cybersecurity: In this age of instantaneous global data at the fingertips of individuals across the globe, some with nefarious intentions, protecting information is vital to security.

Informational security must be effective and continually updated with ongoing training for personnel that empowers them with preventive techniques. This protects companies from breaches of information through the internet, ransomware, dumpster diving, and social engineering and can prevent unnecessary turmoil to companies, agencies, and employees.

Final Reflections

The NYPD, in collaboration with private security professionals and houses or worship, deserves praise for its Neighborhood Policing model.

This extraordinary model builds bridges with communities through the concept of shared responsibility.

But we must remain vigilant as these are challenging times. We must rise to the occasion to secure our city. The principles of security implemented here can serve as a national model for houses of worship nationwide.

The houses of worship in New York City and throughout the nation deserve our dedication, and our unity of effort will be the pillar of security our sacred sites, and our city.

Vincent J. Bove, CPP, is a national speaker and author on issues critical to America. Bove is a recipient of the FBI Director’s Community Leadership Award for combating crime and violence and is a former confidant of the New York Yankees. His newest book is “Listen to Their Cries.” For more information, see www.vincentbove.com

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

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