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Improving Safety and Security
at Places of Worship

Improving Safety and Security at Places of Worship

Posted by Graeme Woods

Graeme Woods

Global Business Analyst

Recently, there have been an increased number of violent attacks on people of faith and their places of worship by bigots and extremists. Faith communities have also been targeted for vandalism and damage to their sacred spaces. These criminal acts directly target both religious communities and freedom of religion.

How can religious groups protect their worshippers and facilities, whilst being open to serve and engage with the community? This paper outlines some practical approaches to help improve safety and security.

Outline of risks

All major religious groups in the United States are increasingly being targeted with attacks including arson, vandalism, thefts, gun violence and personal attacks. This section outlines some significant or topical security incidents faced by religious groups in the United States:

Hindu temples Vandals have damaged three Hindu temples in the San Francisco area, plus a temple in Texas was raided by burglars in recent weeks (mid-January, 2024).

Buddhist temples Temples have been attacked and vandalized with statues being defaced. The Waddell Buddhist temple in Arizona suffered a mass shooting in 1991 with nine fatalities.

Muslim mosques An Imam died after being shot outside of his mosque in Newark, New Jersey on 3 January. Mosques are frequently targeted with the Masjid Al-Rahma Mosque set on fire with worshippers inside. Mosques are trying to increase security due to heightened concerns about attacks.

Jewish synagogues Hundreds of synagogues have received bomb threats. There has been a significant recent rise in anti-Semitic attacks in the United States. Recently a 13-year-old boy was stopped from plotting a mass shooting at a synagogue.

Christian churches There have been over 400 attacks on Christian churches between January 2018 and September 2022. Most attacks were vandalism, with arson and gun-related incidents also recorded.

LDS meeting houses or temples There have been hundreds of attacks on LDS members and their meeting places across the country, including arson attacks and vandalism.

Sikh gurdwaras In 2012, a white supremacist gunman killed seven at a Sikh gurdwara in Wisconsin. As a small minority group, the community has also faced racist threats with individuals being concerned about being targeted due to their distinctive appearance and beliefs.

Improving security at places at worship

There isn’t one “silver bullet” to improve security. You should use a combination of these approaches to improve security, whilst keeping your place of worship accessible:

Install lighting on the grounds. Motion triggered lighting can be used in some areas where it is not feasible to always have lighting on.

Install fencing around the site, including the car park. You could use garrison fencing, chain link fencing with barbed wire (where permitted) or even an electric fence. This prevents unauthorized after-hours access.

Do not keep cash on premises. Post signs that there is no cash on premises.

If cash is collected for offerings, have a secure room with a hardened locked door for counting the money to prevent armed robbery. All cash should be immediately stored in an approved safe.

Consider moving to cashless giving.

Secure all valuables such as relics or items containing precious metals.

Install fire alarms and a sprinkler system. Ensure that fire extinguishers meet code and are regularly checked.

Have removable cages installed to protect religious statues and have these locked around the statue when they are not in use.

Consider appointing ex-police or military personnel as wardens during services. These should have some standard operating procedures for dealing with disruptions or emergencies. You can also consider whether they should be armed.

Use surveillance cameras to detect unauthorized entry after open hours. This could be fed to rostered members who can respond.

Use fire detection cameras to detect arson set outside of the house of worship.

Use automated gun detection to identify situations where a person brandishes a gun (it can spot a threat before a shot is fired).

How Scylla can help keep your place of worship secure

Scylla supplies advanced AI powered video analytics that can automatically and reliably detect critical events. Scylla video analytics are widely used around the globe in schools, government facilities, airports, manufacturing facilities, malls and retail stores to help protect people and buildings.

Scylla has an extensive range of modules that address security and safety use cases. The following modules are particularly suited to the needs of places of worship:

Scylla Gun Detection System – this visually detects pistols, rifles and shotguns once with industry leading accuracy and reliability.

Intrusion Detection and Perimeter Protection – this automatically detects a person or vehicle entering a defined area. With proprietary False Alarm Filtering, this is not triggered by normal false alarms such as car headlights, foliage or animals.

Face Recognition – Watchlist – this can detect people who are not allowed in the place of worship using previous camera footage and alert wardens.

Smoke & Fire Detection – visually detects fires, including outside fires that are not normally detected by conventional fire detection systems.

Scylla has multiple deployment solutions including on-premises servers, cloud or hybrid cloud and a smart edge monitoring solution, Scylla AsteriaTM.

Scylla Asteria is a small form factor, low energy consumption hardware solution. You can simply plug it into your camera network and run Scylla video analytics.

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