According to police, one person was killed and numerous others were injured in a shooting at a California church on Sunday.
Even before this tragic incident the Federal Bureau of Investigation report on Hate Crime Statistics for 2020 highlighted how churches, synagogues, and mosques are all vulnerable to violent attacks, arson, vandalism, theft, and other crimes.
In the report of the more than 8,000 incidents in the United States, religious bias was the third-highest cause of hate crimes, with 13.3 percent of all victims being targeted due to their religion and 3.4 percent of the incidents at houses of worship.
Many people visit churches, mosques, synagogues, temples, and other public places of worship. When people meet to express their faith or serve their community, they should feel safe.
Fortunately, FEMA provides practical and effective information for faith-based organizations to take a more proactive approach and strengthen their security postures
What happened at the Geneva Presbyterian Church?
Sheriff’s deputies in Orange County responded to a report of a shooting at the Geneva Presbyterian Church on El Toro Road in Laguna Woods at around 2 p.m. local time.
The sheriff’s department said that churchgoers subdued the shooter and hogtied him with extension cords. The shooter was in custody and they have obtained two handguns that they believe he used in the shooting.
“Four victims have been critically wounded, one with minor injuries,” the Orange County Sheriff’s Department wrote on Twitter. “All victims are adults and are en route to the hospital. One victim is deceased at the scene.”
The incident takes place one day after a white supremacist killed 10 people during a shooting at a supermarket in Buffalo.
Practical ways for places of worship to IMPROVE their SECURITY
FEMA underscores the importance of staying READY. According to their guide, whether you are preparing for disasters or keeping your space safe from acts of violence, it is important to be ready at any moment.
In an effort to provide actionable information, FEMA put together an informative video that can be useful for any faith-based organization regardless of its size or risk tolerance. Other ways to prepare can include:
- Creating a plan that helps people know what to do in the event of an unforeseen incident. This means taking training like Until Help Arrives and
- completing a plan for how you will communicate with loved ones in case of an emergency.
- Knowing how to mitigate risk and strengthen your security posture= Mitigating Attacks on Houses of Worship Security Guide.
- How to conduct security assessments which can be a vital first step to determining your risk and vulnerabilities Houses of Worship Security Self-Assessment.
- Additionally, community-based non-profits such as the Organizations Preparing for Emergency Needs (OPEN) list resources that can help identify specific actions for your unique situation.
Nonprofit Security Grant Program
FEMA provides a lot of information but the key is to develop an effective and sustainable security program that matches your organization’s risk tolerance and community.
One option that helps faith-based organizations stay proactive is the Nonprofit Security Grant Program, which provides funding to houses of worship that are at high risk of a terrorist attack. These grants are awarded to nonprofit organizations to fund activities such as:
- Safety and security planning, training and exercises
- Contract Security Guards
- Access/Entry Controls
- Security Cameras
- External Lighting
- Security Fences/Gates and Bollards
There are many other resources but the important part is to start NOW.
Bad actors often see Houses of worship as soft targets because of their openness and predictable schedules. The shooting at the Geneva Presbyterian Church is a sad reminder of the risks that houses of worship face and the importance of security awareness.
FEMA provides a lot of practical and actionable information, but none of it matters unless organizations adopt a proactive approach to security. This can be accomplished by simply creating a security task force to review FEMA’s information or working with a security professional to guide you through the process.
The bottom line is that security should not be a top priority AFTER a major incident.