Introduction: This is not the best of time for humanity as far as wholesale insecurity, bloodletting and social vices are concerned. Both developed, developing and under-developed countries of the world grapple with one form of security challenge or the other. Hallowed places of worship and religious leaders are not spared in this onslaught by fanatics, criminals, vandals, kidnappers, terrorists, active shooters and their ilks.
Shortly before penning this piece, gunmen kidnapped two Catholic Priests in Delta State, South-South, Nigeria. Vanguard Newspaper chronicled the story of Gabriel Ogunsawe, member of a notorious kidnapping syndicate that specializes in kidnapping little children from churches. To this end, churches, mosques in the United States are boosting security in their premises due to intermittent mass shootings, terrorism and violent extremism. ‘’Preliminary 2015 statistics gathered by the Council on American-Islamic Relations found 71 reported cases of vandalism, harassment and threats, with 29 of those incidents occurring aftermath of the November 13, 2015 terrorist attack in France’’. As we know, insecurity, nay terrorism, basks on element of surprise, unpredictability, instilling fear on the populace, effecting mass casualty and this explains why proponents of such dastardly acts opt for soft targets, public places.
Litany of Incidents, Attacks on Places of Worship
It beggars belief how some folks justify killing in the name of their ‘god’. Can a mortal fight for an immortal? This tells how complex, perverted the human mind can be. The ensuing random incidents in places of worship buttresses the increasing rate at which such places are been targeted. In 2007, a bloke went on a shooting spree killing two people at an evangelical ministry and two more at New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado, United States. In 2012, a white supremacist killed six people at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. In 2014, a white supremacist killed three people at a Jewish Community Center and retirement home in suburban Kansas City. In August 2015, Islamic State militants raided a Syrian church and abducted scores of Christians after capturing the strategic town of Qaryatain. The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) reckons more than 230 people were kidnapped in that attack. , United States. In what the police called a ‘hate crime’, a lone gunman opened fire inside a historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina, United States sometime in June 2015 killing at least nine people. In July 2015, a suicide bomber attacked and killed five worshippers of the Redeemed Christian Church of God Church (RCCG) on the outskirts of Potiskum in Yobe state, Nigeria. October 2015, at least 30 people were killed and dozens injured in a twin suicide bomb attack on a mosque in the Mulai area of Nigeria's northeastern Borno State. Just recently, November, 2015, two suspected Boko Haram members strapped with IEDs blew themselves up near a mosque in Cameroon’s Far North province. Don’t forget the December 2011 Christmas Day bombing of St. Theresa Catholic church in Madalla, outskirt of Abuja, Nigeria’s federal capital that claimed the lives of 25 people.
Incidents, attacks on places of worship, dispiriting
A security, safety lapse or incident in a place of worship invariably impacts on the congregation’s faith in God; devotees will certainly thin out. There is no doubt Prophet T.B Joshua must have lost some followers’ aftermath of the collapse of Synagogue Church of All Nations’ (SCOAN) six-storey guest house which reportedly claimed the lives of about 116 folks, mostly South Africans on September 12, 2014. Disparaging remarks were flying around; some people were asking how come the acclaimed prophet did not foretell and probably stop that incident from happening. A neighbor of mine, an aficionado of SCOAN tactically chickened out after that incident. Such is life…
Watch and Pray!
Apart from deliberate criminals acts and those occasioned by natural disasters, some of the security and safety challenges confronting humanity are not necessarily caused by the devil but are products of negligence though we apportion the blame to the devil, phantom enemies or ‘’spiritual attack’’. There is no gainsaying the fact that many places of worship (churches, mosques) etc. shy away from basic physical security, safety best practices, more often than not due to the impression that only God can protect. It is undisputable that God protects. Ever wonder why the Scripture admonishes us to WATCH and PRAY? Notice that ‘’watch’’ precedes ‘’pray’’ and not the other way around. Let’s leave that to theologians. A couple of admonitions in the Good Book go thus: ‘’my people perish for lack of wisdom’’ while another one says, ‘’heaven helps those who help themselves’’.
21 Security, Safety Tip For Churches, Mosques and other places of worship
A trite wise saying suffices that prevention is better than cure. Proactiveness should be the watchword of every place of worship, nay organizations. A professional, visible, courteous, responsive security team will certainly make worshippers, visitors feel safe and welcome. Listed below are recommendations that will help strengthen the security, safety of lives, properties in places of worship.
1. Establishing a full-fledged Security ‘Ministry’ or Department/Committee must be a priority for all places of worship. The Security ‘Ministry or whatever name it is called, must be peopled with members of the congregation that have extensive security background (ideally, serving and retired military or law enforcement personnel coupled with carefully selected laymen/laywomen, ushers, volunteers who must be trained to recognize, report and respond to security/safety incidents). Basic first responder training and knowledge of basic first aid will help. A security consultant can be retained and private security operatives hired if need be.
2. A detailed security policy is important. A security policy is a continuously updated template that figures out, outlines how the organization plans to protect its people and properties. A typical security policy should include specifics such as: procedures for evaluating the effectiveness of the security policy to ensure that necessary corrections will be effected; stipulates who is authorized to talk to the Press/Police in the event of an incident, that under-aged children will be released ONLY to their parents or an authorized adult after service and so on and so forth.
3. Places of worship should formulate a comprehensive emergency (fire, terrorism/active shooter, health-related natural disasters) and evacuation plans, lockdown procedures and scrutinize the aforementioned procedures routinely in response to plausible natural or man-made misadventure.
4. The security department must strive to organize periodic security awareness programmes: seminar, symposium or briefings for members of the congregation.
5. Carry out a routine comprehensive risk assessment and vulnerability surveys of the place of worship vis-à-vis location of the place of worship and crime demographic, identifying potential hazards, how secured the access or entry points are, fencing, untrimmed shrubs/trees, inventory of equipment amongst others. Recommendations must be put in place to mitigate such risks. Recent events demands that places of worship must re-think leaving their premises unlocked to such an extent that anybody can walk in and out.
6. A rigorous background check or screening must be done on staff of the security department, volunteers, those taking care of children and those responsible for money/finances. Don’t be carried away by how sanctimonious folks appear when they are in the public or a religious centre. A popular parlance holds that in every twelve, there’s a Judas. Again, not every member of the choir or congregation sings with the same passion. There are paedophiles, sexual predators everywhere; churches, mosques are no exceptions.
7. Ensure the place of worship is thoroughly scanned or searched prior to a religious activity. In addition to this, it is in the best interest of worshippers and visitors to have their bags, vehicles professionally frisked prior to coming into the worship centre. This is where metal and bomb detectors come into play. Recall that a while ago, about six Boko Haram militants were purportedly apprehended inside a Winners Chapel branch in Owerri, Imo state while attempting to implant improvised explosive devices within the church premises.
8. An efficient access and traffic control mechanism must be activate to detect, prevent a would-be suicide bomber from gate-crashing with IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices) or VIEDs (Vehicle Borne Explosive Devices), commonly called car bombs and also to avoid inconveniencing other road users or passers-by.
9. Thanks to the proliferation and affordability of security gadgets, financially established places of worship are encouraged to invest in some of these devices. Please ensure whatever security gadgets you want to buy are tested prior to purchasing them to ascertain they work according to specification. For instance, an efficient CCTV Camera, an intrusion (burglar) detector and fire alarm/extinguisher system, metal or bomb detector will respectively help monitor the premises in real time, protect against intrusions, fire incidents and concealed weapons, IEDs or VBIEDs.
10. In buying a metal or bomb detector, ensure it is easy and safe to use, boasts greatest SENSITIVITY and SELECTIVITY, very minimal false alarms or noise. For CCTV Cameras, go for high-end security cameras with night vision capability, motion detection capability, consider storage capacity and ability to save videos/pictures externally, not hackable (especially for wireless cameras), weather resistant, high definition (HD) capability (though consumes more storage space), can discriminate objects at farther distances (say 75-100 feet), wide angle of coverage, amongst others. Note that wireless cameras slow down internet connections. For more details, please Google, read – Guide To Buying A Home Security Camera: 16 Features To Consider.
11. During activities, the security team should be strategically located, kitted up with preferably two-way walkie-talkies for unhindered communication and coordination. They must be vigilant and observe suspicious behaviors such as people milling around, those walking towards or leaving the premises abruptly and ensure such folks did not leave anything, an object, bag behind.
12. A security staff should be on sentry to screen, check folks that want to see the ‘man of God’ after religious activities.
13. Many a times people die as a result of panic or stampede than the actual occurrence hence worshippers are encouraged to be calm and desist from congregating around the scene of an incident to avoid exposing themselves to further danger and not to destroy possible clues, evidence. In the event of an explosion or active shooter, dash to the ground and crawl to the nearest cover.
14. Indiscriminate parking of vehicles must be avoided. There should be designated areas for parking vehicles.
15. In this era of using make-shift buildings as places of worship, please carry out a due diligence, architectural integrity test to ensure the agility of the structural materials. See to it buildings are well-constructed; will not easily cave in and that there are no exposed wirings, defective ceilings amongst others.
16. Security is a collective responsibility. Worshippers MUST be security conscious; try to know their members, recognize strange faces and report suspicious behavior to members of the security department.
17. The mind is deceptive and people can give in to temptation; to guard against pilfering, two or more people must be around when funds are collected, counted and safeguarded. Apart from insider threats, there are reported cases of armed robbers raiding places of worship to cart off offerings.
18. Critical and expensive assets, valuables (musical equipment, electronics) etc. of the organization should be labelled in case of theft, safely stored and inventory taken, at least annually.
19. Worship centres must ensure their premises are well-illuminated preferably with energy-efficient flood lights, especially at nights.
20. Given the possibility of fire incidents, flooding, a data breach, places of worship must take steps to ensure safety of sensitive records: financial transactions, receipts, membership records (addresses), amongst others. Better and safer to digitalize and backup such information and ensure no unauthorized access.
21. Partner with mainstream law enforcement agencies and promptly notify them of any breach and hand over any suspect, culprit that may have been apprehended.
Finally, WATCH and PRAY!!!
© Don Okereke
(Security Adviser/Consultant, Entrepreneur, Researcher, Writer and Change agent)
Follow Don on Twitter: @DonOkereke
Contact him via: donnuait(a)yahoo.com
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