DHS Outlines Steps Houses of Worship Can Take To Protect Themselves

To “mitigate the threat of targeted violence and prepare for potential incidents” against churches, synagogues, temples, and mosques, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) released Dec. 6, 2023 the PDF guide, Physical Security Performance Goals for Faith-Based Communities, which outlines measures “faith-based communities” can take to protect themselves from current vicious tensions.

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This guide comes as reported hate crimes have spiked since the onset of the war between Israel and the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas, according to FBI Director Christopher Wray.

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DHS emphasized in its 2024 Homeland Threat Assessment that the danger of violence from individuals radicalized in the United States will “remain high . . . marked by lone offenders or small group attacks that occur with little warning.”

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The 16-page document examines threats and vulnerabilities to provide targeted strategies organized by the functional categories of Identify, Protect, Detect, Respond, and Recover. It also includes a glossary of security-related words and phrases, and links to multiple resources under each category. Here are some of the guide’s recommendations:

  • Establish a mutually supportive relationship with the local community and faith-based organizations to exchange threat-related information.
  • Monitor parking areas and all access and entry points with video surveillance systems.
  • Place photocell (for dusk to dawn) and motion-activated LED lighting throughout the exterior perimeter.
  • Lock and install alarms on windows and doors, ensuring they can be unlocked for emergency escape.
  • Ensure doors work properly and lock from the inside. Do not prop doors open.
  • Use signage and other communication methods to indicate unauthorized areas.
  • Keep landscaping trimmed. Avoid tree branches below six feet and prevent bushes from growing above two feet to prevent hiding places.
  • Ensure fences and gates are maintained and in working order.
  • Provide situational awareness training to help individuals quickly identify potential threats/hazards to allow for appropriate response to an incident.

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  • Utilize greeters at every entry point and parking lot to identify early warning signs of potential violence.
  • Incorporate access control for critical areas such as IT/electrical rooms, finance offices, and children’s ministries.
  • For schools and daycares on property:
    • Limit access to as few people as possible using a single point of entry, secure other access points, and ensure only authorized visitors are allowed entry with photo identification. Consider using a visitor management system.
    • Establish communication procedure with parents or guardians of minors in the event of an ongoing incident.

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  • Train appropriate personnel in active threat response and shelter-in-place procedures
  • Build a strong relationship with law enforcement to help them understand any unique community customs or requirements. Share facility floor plans.
  • Offer facility to support training opportunities for first responders.
  • Update software/hardware on regular basis.
  • Remain aware of surroundings and exercise caution with potential visitors.
  • Use varying routes when commuting
  • Train staff and volunteers on specific threats (active shooter, bombing, vehicle ramming) on a regular basis to increase awareness of best practices.
  • Collaborate with law enforcement and emergency responders to conduct exercises to enhance response capabilities.
  • Conduct after-action reviews to identify any lessons learned and areas for improvement; document findings in an improvement plan.
  • For schools and daycares on property:
    • Conduct drills for students and staff to test the processes, procedures, and technologies of the school facility.

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The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Nonprofit Security Grant Program (NSGP) can assist in paying the cost for such security measures as those recommended above. NSGP provides US federal grant dollars (in Fiscal Year 2023 the amount was $305 million) for facility hardening and other physical security enhancements and activities to nonprofit organizations, including faith-based organizations, that are at high risk of terrorist or other extremist attack.

Applications for the next round of funding (FY24) will likely be published in February 2024. In the meantime, if you’re interested in the grant program, you can familiarize yourself now with the requirements so when it does open you’re set to complete the application. To do so, see the Fiscal 2023 Fact Sheet and Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO). Also use the 2023 Quick Start Guide as a reference to help prepare your application for the next fiscal year program.

Also see FEMA’s Faith-Based and Volunteer Partnership Resources and DHS’s Prevention Resource Finder.

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