Safety Threats to Houses of Worship, Community Centers, and Schools
The threats to our faith and way of life are clear and present, as well as take many tangible forms; from graffiti-strewn hate to armed forced entry. Indeed, everyone is all too aware of the endless barrage of attacks on our schools and houses of worship that have left us numb in the wake of the tragic toll of horror and human catastrophe.
On the heels of the Tree of Life murders, that mercilessly cut short 11 people’s lives and wounded 11 others, Charleston’s mass killing of 9 parishioners at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, as well as the Colleyville hostage standoff, Executive Directors of our houses of worship, community centers, and schools, have been forced to focus on taking community safety measures to protect and safeguard congregations, students, educators, and caretakers.
It is tragic that every administrator must now devote significant energies and resources toward bolstering security against terrorism and crime. Yet, it’s necessary so that we can come together as we always have, to attend houses of faith, schools, community centers, libraries, movie theaters, and shopping centers.
Dealing with Threat – The Important Role Time Plays in Community Safety – Thinking Ahead
Facility Directors know that it is not enough to rely solely on first responders. After all, they’re “responding” to our calls for help – after the fact. As they respond, precious time gives way to the possibility of tragedy and loss. Awareness of the need to take community safety precautions ahead of time is critically important. Everyone knows this to be true.
Modern Building Design – Vulnerability Baked in
Today’s modern architectural design is increasingly reliant on open space plans, fostering a free flow of activities within our buildings, and panoramic insulated window glass, allowing us to harvest natural daylight.
While we enjoy and reap the benefits of the utility and beauty that these features offer, it has become all too apparent that both present us with new challenges on how best to protect against violent forced entry and explosive (terrorist) attacks.
Recognizing the threats to our way of life, our vulnerabilities, and the need to be proactive, means that we must rely on new security technologies such as security window (glazing) film, more robust door locking mechanisms, and other security equipment to fortify our building entries against attack.
Understanding and using these new security solutions can be the most cost-effective first step in hardening the more fragile part of our buildings. The goal is to frustrate intruders and delay their forced entry, thus, allowing more time for those inside to take cover, and for first responders to arrive on the scene.
Funding your Security Solutions – DHS/FEMA and State-Based Grants
Armed with this knowledge, it remains every organization’s first challenge to cover the cost of critical life-saving security improvements. Fortunately, there are state and federal grants available to help offset this burden and supplement local financing sources. NGS offers grant assistance services to help find applicable grants for building security upgrades.
Getting Started – The Threat Assessment and Knowing the Facility and Operations
Protecting a house of worship, community center, or school against terrorism, crime, and other hazards does not require that the Executive Administrator be an engineer or security expert. However, in working with a threat assessment expert to apply for a grant and develop a security plan, the facility staff should not underestimate the value of its day-to-day knowledge of the facility and its operations.
Using the facility staff’s unique knowledge, the security expert will produce a report that includes the following:
- An introductory explanation of why the facility is at risk – illustrating this with references to incidents against similar targets.
- A comprehensive and critical understanding of how the facility is laid out, its construction, existing security and emergency preparedness systems, its proximity to adjoining (public and private) properties, and access to first responders.
- An understanding of how, and at what times different areas of the facility are used, i.e.: administrative offices, classrooms, social activity rooms, fitness centers, sanctuaries, and cafeterias.
- Plans for day-to-day and emergency operational and escape procedures, integrating existing or planned controlled-access technology, reliance on “safe” area locations, and guidance from law enforcement and fire authorities to allow safe access for first responders.
- A basic understanding of the integrity, design and vulnerabilities of the facility’s structure, to appreciate the options available to upgrade the performance of the facility’s entries and perimeter to resist the threat of violent forced entry and bomb blast.
With this foundation of knowledge, the facility staff can contribute, working in a dynamic process with the security experts, to form a cohesive and effective threat assessment, as well as a priority-driven security strategy.
Community Safety Assistance with Trusted Design Solutions
The safety of houses of worship, community centers, schools, and neighborhoods should never be taken for granted. Importantly, peace of mind and guidance is available through the resources of those companies that are experienced in working with security experts and structural engineers. These companies can provide documented, independently tested, security solutions that satisfy the directives in the threat assessment and give comfort, safety, and peace of mind to everyone.