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Recent Escalation of Fatal Attacks Prompts Calls for Increased Security at Places of Worship

Attacks against places of worship are not a new phenomenon; and although the volume of attacks against places of worship is no greater than it was a decade ago, the number of incidents resulting in one or more fatalities has escalated - prompting calls for increased security.In April 1990, Congress passed the Hate Crimes Statistics Act requiring the attorney general to collect data relating to “crimes that manifest evidence of prejudice based on race, religion, sexual orientation, or ethnicity”. The responsibility for collecting data was delegated to the FBI, who - via the Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) program - has developed an extensive database spanning almost three decades.

Due to the sortable nature of the database, it is possible to extract statistics relating to hate crimes that have occurred in churches, synagogues, temples, mosques, and other places of worship. The data reveals that the volume of attacks against places of worship is much the same as it was ten years ago, although considerably higher than it was five years ago.

However, what the bare data doesn't show is a recent escalation of fatal attacks. These have increased significantly over the past ten years according to the Faith Based Security Network (FBSN) - a non-profit charity that monitors attacks against places of worship and their outcomes. The chart below illustrates why church leaders are calling for increased security at places of worship.

fatal attacks at places of worship graph

How Places of Worship are Reacting to this Escalation

Places of worship are reacting to this escalation of fatal attacks in a number of ways. Some use teams of armed volunteers to provide security at services, while others have engaged private firms to protect worshippers. In some states, legislation has been passed to fund security training for volunteers, or to pay for security measures such as shatterproof glass and CCTV cameras.

Federal grants are also available through FEMA's Nonprofit Security Grants Program, but grants are capped to $75,000 per congregation and the total budget available for nonprofit security grants per year is $20 million. With about 384,000 places of worship throughout the country, the federal government has been criticized for not doing enough to help protect soft targets.

Related Blog: Increasing Soft Target Security - One Year On

In its defense, FEMA provides a wealth of resources to help places of worship better protect themselves. In addition to explaining how congregations can participate in federally-funded preparedness activities, and become involved in community emergency management, FEMA's website includes links to courses, webinars, and a very relevant Guide for Developing Emergency Operations Plans for Houses of Worship.

The guide acknowledges attacks against places of worship are not a new phenomenon and notes that they often happen with little or no warning. Due to the escalation of incidents resulting in one or more fatalities, the guide dedicates a full section to emergency planning in the event of an active assailant situation.

Protecting House of Worship against Attacks

Much of the advice provided by the guide to protect houses of worship against active assailants is similar to that provided for schools. Among other measures, FEMA recommends having technologies in place to report suspicious activities, discretely alert 9-1-1 to active assailants, warn congregations of a threat. It also recommends providing 9-1-1 with facility plans to better prepare first responders.

Protecting Houses of Worship Whitepaper

Tara Gibson
Tara Gibson

Tara is a Marketing Coordinator on the Rave Mobile Safety marketing team. She loves writing about all things K-12, State & Local, Higher Ed, Corporate, and Healthcare, and manages the Rave social media channels. When she's not working, she's taking care of her smiley, shoe eating, Instagram-famous fur baby, Enzo!

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