Whether the House of Worship is a grand cathedral in downtown, or a community-based synagogue or mosque, a foundational religious belief is maintaining open doors. This intrinsically turns Houses of Worship into soft targets for extremist violence. At the end of this article is a collection of in-depth guides from government and faith-based resources that dig deep into soft target security. We hope you will find it helpful.
A House of Worship is designed to be easily accessible – and this is the very reason why they are soft targets. People come and go all the time, the building itself is usually designed to be inviting and have many entrances. There is very often more than one road nearby, making it easy to escape after an attack, and there are regular gatherings of people at which plenty of strangers are present. Attacking a House of Worship is easy and low risk.
The process of turning a soft target into a hard target seems impossibly large at first, but there’s no reason to turn yourself into an armed camp. Every single step you can take to make yourself a harder target that you were before is a worthwhile one. Which brings us to the concentric model of security.
There is no one single security measure that will make you safe. A resourceful and determined attacker will always get past a security step eventually. Every security professional knows this. When designing a security program, we use lots of security steps, and arrange them in layers. For example, having a good door is a layer. Having a good lock is a layer. Reinforcing the doorframe, so that it is more difficult to kick the door down, is a layer. Installing a door that swings out instead of in is another layer. Replacing exposed hinges with concealed hinges, so that the door cannot be cut out of the frame with a grinding tool, is another layer. And so on.
Electronic security measures make good, effective security layers. For example: panic buttons adds a layer of security, if they’re designed and deployed properly. Access control systems which allow you to lock down a building in case of an active shooter event is an extremely effective layer of security. Cameras can act as a layer of security, if they’re mounted and monitored in such a way as to record and help convict vandals, and can monitor interiors during an emergency event. Voice evacuation systems can help you direct people to safety and help them avoid danger during and after an event. And so forth.
Thinking in concentric layers is a good way to figure out how to make your House of Worship a harder target. Simply look at all your current security measures and figure out what one thing you can do to make each one a little better. Once you’re satisfied, take a look again and extend the layer of security outward a little more, and a little more, and a little more, until it is no longer practical for you to extend it further.
Here at Dagostino, we value community. This makes us particularly passionate about using a toolbox of solutions to preserve the safety of our local religious institutions. Our approach is to steadily build security from the ground up, until we achieve a desired balance of hospitality and protection.
When we do onsite evaluations, we will look at your softest areas and build up. We often discover an unlocked side door that has literally open access. We will implement access control systems that can be discretely programmed to allow entry just for those who need to use that door.
Another common issue we encounter is a congregation having a rudimentary surveillance system in place but not having the software for easy and intelligent management. Our approach is to design a unified system where every piece of security equipment is connected to your IP network and can be investigated and controlled through one unified dashboard. This helps you detect intrusion in real-time and then take immediate actions.
On a strategic level, slowing down access through the main entryway is a key to safety. It gives congregants and staff members those extra seconds to notice newcomers who appear out-of-place, and hinders quick intrusion from attackers. There are several ways to achieve this:
- Install two sets of doors in the lobby and program each set of doors to only open when the other is closed.
- For quieter times, affix a video intercom on your main doorway. This allows your office staff to see who is there without putting themselves in direct danger. Houses of Worship can be a magnet for drifters or volatile personalities and your staff may not have the tools to manage these interactions safely.
- For busier times, ushers who personally recognize your congregants are your best line of defense. By equipping them with networked pagers and panic buttons, you can bolster their efficacy.
Lastly, we recommend hardening your institution by making your security arsenal visible from the outside. Cameras should be detectable, security protocols should be signposted and hired security personnel in uniform. The less vulnerable a House of Worship appears from the outside, the less likely a violent extremist will consider entry.
While these technological solutions do amp up the protection coverage, a community-based House of Worship does need an integrated security plan that goes beyond technology. The congregation’s eyes and ears do need to be aware of unusual activity and the leadership must establish ongoing relationships with law enforcement. Read more best practices in our compilation below.
- FEMA Guide for Developing High Quality Emergency Operations Plans for Houses of Worship
- US Department of Homeland Security: Securing Soft Targets and Crowded Places
- ADL Guide To Protecting Your Religious or Communal Institution
- Best Practices for Mosque and Community Safety
- ASIS: Recommended Best Practices for Securing Houses of Worship