Protecting Your House of Worship

Comments, thoughts, and answers concerning the unique dilemma of protecting sacred spaces.

Monday, July 22, 2013

A Worthwhile Resource on Violence at Churches

I stumbled on this recently and thought it worth sharing. Awareness and vigilance are foundational to any protection program.

Besides that, I can't think of anything produced by Lieutenant Colonel David Grossman so far that not be worth reviewing.

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Saturday, May 12, 2007

What's wrong with this?

Or, maybe the title should have been is this the best way to deal with the problem. This news story from North Carolina brings up a couple of key points in a just a few lines.

First the problem is on-going and not a single loss event.
"An uptown church is shutting its doors more often after a recent rash of robberies."
Ok good, at least we know they aren't making knee-jerk reactions and spending money for just one loss event. Sadly in many instances, and it sure as heck isn't limited to houses of worship, organizations get a little nuts after some event and jump through hoops to make themselves feel better - or that they are safe again. This is not to say that after each and every loss event there shouldn't be a review to improve security planning; it just means that this review need not always result in more spending.

Second, there is a societal fixation on cameras.
The church plans to buy newer, better security cameras"
Does anyone out there still believe that closed-circuit television cameras (CCTV, aka security cameras) deter any crime? Maybe they do, a little, but if they were effective at it then we might not see so many videos of crime on the news. Consider this, cameras offer a tools for following up, or investigating, activities after they occur. Now this is indeed a very important tool and one that should not be overlooked. Unless someone is monitoring the CCTV system there will be no immediate response to a wrongful act.
So third, just installing better cameras will not likely reduce the number of incidents that occur, unless they are being committed by a select few individuals who, once apprehended, are not able to continue. If not, the losses will continue and the police will more arrests - AND the organization will continue to lose valuable assets. CCTV systems, in a traditional sense, create a nice record of what happened but they are not effective at facilitating the intervention necessary to stop the event.

Look, I'm not saying they shouldn't upgrade their CCTV system. What I am saying is, "hey, let's look into how we might be able to prevent these events from happening in the first place." Maybe, just maybe, catching one of these thieves in the act and counseling them might result in a much better outcome than just having them arrested at some later time.

So how could we prevent it from happening??? I think in the next I might discuss some newer tools - and some old tools.

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Fresh start - in more ways than one

Clearly I haven't been posting any information to this blog in quite some time, and for good reasons... Today, however, signals a fresh start for the blog counter for another really good reason. I just learned that Sitemeter had started installing ad cookies on its member sites. So I've moved to a new counter service, and I figured I'd take this time to go ahead and start over - with the counter and with new posts.

Also, some of you may know that I've stopped consulting full-time and returned to the world of "doing" security. I know, I know. You're asking why anyone would do that; give up the cushy hours, the fun travel, eh, you get the point. Suffice it to say it was just time to go ahead and get back into the game.

Stay tuned. More to come (hopefully more regularly)

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Thursday, February 01, 2007

See this on wireless alarm systems

Wireless alarm systems are a real option especially when retrofitting a building. Wireless devices save money and time that is consumed trying to drag wire throughout a facility that is already built.

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Tuesday, October 17, 2006

A short note on landscaping

Landscaping can be an indispensable tool for security, not to mention how much better it can make any building look. For security it can provide some very real benefits, and I'm not talking about those "tips" for home protection like placing thorny bushes around windows (which works or doesn't depending on who you consult).

So here are a few basics for incorporating security functions into your landscaping.

The most important bit has to do with Natural Surveillance, or making sure that everyone is able to see the goings on in a given area. To do this keep shrubs relatively low, particularly closer to the building, to reduce potential areas of concealment. Then keep trees high, or "canopy" them, with the lowest branches somewhere above five feet (six is event better). There reason for adjusting the trees is to highlight the silhouette of a person standing near it. The head is one of the most identifiable features on a human silhouette. This coupled with improved lighting makes it much harder for someone to conceal themselves around a building.

From there is becomes possible to use landscaping for "wayfinding" or assisting persons to remain on the proper path. Shrubs and trees can help guide people without the use of fencing, bollards or chains. It looks nicer, costs less over time, and can be just as effective. For instance, if folks like to "cut across" the lawn on their way to a nearby attraction then a row of shrubs can help deter this behavior. Again the shrubs can be kept relatively low and the height can be compensated with depth. While it might be easy to just over an 18" high row of shrubs, it is much more difficult to do the same for a row that is, say, four or five feet deep. Different types of shrubs can add color and texture for visual appeal while making it uncomfortable to force passage. Some shrubs are particularly adept had creating a sort of "tanglefoot" entrapment that is difficult (or even treacherous) and uncomfortable to pass through. Here again, lighting can help enhance the shrubbery by lighting the path around the plants to further assist in guiding individuals.

There. A couple of quick thoughts on the uses of landscaping in security.

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Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Managing vandalism - Part II: an alternate approach

Although it may be well past the original event discussed in this series of postings, vandalism to Houses of Worship continues unabated throughout the world. This article is a bit more recent but similar acts occur nearly every day (or night depending on how you look at it).

I have received much feedback from some very vocal peers with a different view on how to respond to such vandalism. Their approach is certainly valid and is, and has been, used many times in many communities - successfully. So here is an alternate response:

As discussed in the previous post you must do a little leg work in advance, but if you don't you will simply have to do it on the fly afterwards. Get a feel for how long it may take to discover vandalism. Keep in mind that I am speaking of prominent vandalism not so much something small in an out of the way place. I mean the sensational stuff that the passing public will see. Will you be aware of it in an hour, a day, or longer?

Then discuss with your local law enforcement what steps they will take once the event is reported. Build your actions around their response. It's just easier that way. Given that your organization is probably a little more agile than the local government (but not always).

The real divergence in this alternate approach is when the vandalism is removed. In this scenario, rather than hiding the damage, covering it up, cleaning in expeditiously, it is used for public relations and awareness.

Organize a press conference with the local media. Include whichever partners may be most appropriate: the local police chief, prosecutor, mayor, or council members. The press conference becomes a time to speak out say that you are not afraid or ashamed. And to discuss how long the vandalism will remain as a symbol of defiance. Follow-up coverage should be arranged with local media to keep this thought fresh in the public mind and additional awareness activities may be planned as well.

Regardless of which approach might be used, or any method for that matter, it is without a doubt important to plan your actions. Even if this planning is done for just a few minutes after an event. Take the time to think through your actions. What is it you wish to accomplish and why. Then act accordingly with those goals. A few minutes of preparation can prevent embarrassment, annoyance, and further hurt from the event.

Good luck.

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Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Managing vandalism - Part II (The Response)

Let's continue on and briefly discuss responding to vandalism and managing the successful attack. Once again, this has been spurred by this recent article about events near my home revisits just how hard it can be to prevent and manage vandalism.

Once a vandal, or vandals, have successfully attacked your facility what do you do? How long will it be before it is discovered and reported? What will the police want to do and how long will it take?

First make sure that you conduct some sort of liaison with your community police officer (by whatever name this position goes by in your local department) and learn how they will respond along with a "scientifically estimated wild guess" about how long their process will take to process the crime scene. Why? Because you want the greatest amount of time to reverse the efforts of the vandal before the general public gets a glimpse. Why? Because this has two effects: one it negates the effort of the bad guy and is a symbol of defiance, and two it helps to prevent any negative press that may come from the attack. What I mean by that is the willingness of the media - and this is not an attack on their activities - to begin digging and reporting on hate groups; and possibly giving them "face time" or printing their views. Why should your loss contribute to the publicity of those that work to destroy your organization.

With that said a quick step back to the previous post... You should create the opportunity to, if not prevent the attack, identify it as early as possible - so maybe patrols every two or three hours after nightfall. This might provide a large enough window to eliminate the value of the attack. This may further work as a deterrent to future efforts because they just didn't get anything out of their efforts - which may be referred to as a "benefit denial" strategy.

But let's assume that the attack has been discovered and the police notified. What should you do? First secure the scene. Keep everyone away from anything that may have value, like footprints, trash in trash cans, tire tracks, glass shards, and so on. It's perfectly acceptable, and in my opinion essential, to begin taking pictures now and keep taking them until the clean up it complete. This is useful for insurance purposes and for documenting the effort necessary to clean up the attack. Some of these may be useful when giving presentations to the local government and petition for better policing (manpower increases, enhanced patrols, etc.) or in developing anti-hate programs. You just can't go wrong with the pictures. I'd also encourage anyone to treat these like evidence and control the camera, any picture or film processing, and the pictures themselves. Also keep the rolls of film "clean" or don't mix pictures of none related activities with the attack.

Now that the police are gone you have to get rid of the mess. The purpose of this is to reduce the value that the attacker's efforts, not because of shame or other internal concerns. This is important to communicate to your members. You must not be ashamed - you did not commit the attack, you did not ask to have it committed. Cleaning up becomes an act of defiance. It is an act that is imminently more efficient if you have materials on-hand. Keep paint, sanders and sandpaper, boards for windows, tools, and the like availabe in moderate supply. More can be obtained on relatively short notice, but you should have enough to get started.

Determine in advance how you will respond to media inquiries for vandalism, then tailor your plan accordingly. Do you denounce the action, express forgiveness, seek punishment... Decide in advance when the emotions are not quite as strong. This first message after an attack may be crucial to how your congregation is portrayed in the media and in the community.

Just one last word... The goal is to prevent and not respond, but make sure that your response is planned in advance. Emotions can cause kneejerk reactions that are more detrimental than helpful, so plan your response and respond with your plan.


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Managing vandalism - Part I

This recent article about events near my home revisits just how hard it can be to prevent and manage vandalism. Although the article gives no details of the attack, we really don't need to know those to discuss the difficulties with managing the potential, or continuing, threat of vandalism at any House of Worship. To better cover this topic we'll look at if from a couple of different perspectives including environmental knowledge, specific preventive and mitigative efforts, and finally the response.

We'll start a little out of order with preventing and mitigating these attacks...

Designing a plan to manage vandalism revolves around a couple of key points that rely on specific behavioral assumptions. First there must be some degree of privacy for the attackers to feel comfortable; that is comfortable that they will not be discovered, observed or caught. If they attackers do not fear discovery or capture then the entire dynamic of the management efforts must be altered. Second, there is an assumption that someone will see the fruit of the vandal's efforts. This is the psychological part of the attack. The physical damage to the facility may be annoying and expensive, but it is the specific nature of any messages left behind that causes the greatest impact.

With this in mind the greatest way to avoid much the impact is to prevent the successful completion of the attack. There may even be ways to thwart the manifestation of the threat, but we'll discuss that later in the environmental knowledge piece. Preventing a vandalism requires an effort to increase the likelihood, as well as the perception, that a vandal will be discovered and caught. This may be done a number of different ways given an ideal location with ideal conditions and we all know that each location has its own quirks and needs. As such, discovery and apprehension requires successful surveillance efforts that may be either natural or electronic. That means changing traffic patterns to ensure there is a steady flow of people that can observe activity in a specific place. I know this sounds a little silly when dealing with late night crime - even the most well illuminated locations could still be attacked simply because no one is there to see the attack. Furthermore there is an underlying assumption that those providing the natural surveillance will act on their observations - in other words that they'll care about what they are seeing. These shortcomings can be countered using electronic surveillance technologies, particularly at night or during low traffic times, and these have really come a long way in the last decade with some that are ideally suited for dealing with vandalism.

Let me preface this bit by saying that I generally discourage the purchase of equipment as a "point solution" because the cost can become onerous for any one issue, but in this case the solution has many applications besides crime loss management. Remote video monitoring. It used to be that you installed an alarm system and when it activated the police were dispatched by a central alarm monitoring station - time passed the the attack was completed - making this not much of a preventive tool. Now consider this current technology solution. The attacker approaches a "restricted" area, that may be defined as the area immediately surrounding the building, which causes a camera to become active a central monitoring station. The watch officer at the station seeing the attackers and activates a two-way intercom and reads a script that has been coordinated with the property owners. It may be something like:

"Attention! You are trespassing on private land. Your activity is being recorded and observed by live personnel. The police have been notified and are responding. Please depart immediately."

It has an amazing effect and has been used successfully at locations around the country in a variety of applications. The benefits are immense because an organization reduces the likelihood of a false alarm, which are getting expensive, and also receives the immediate interaction with the attacker. Not to mention that these systems may be tied into pretty much any alarm sensor like fire, flood, or medical assistance. Now I must admit I'm a little partial to this technology because I wrote a short paper on it while finishing my degree and it was still considered an "emerging" technology, but with that said it has real applications for this scenario. Imagine the vandal, or vandals since there is a degree of vanity and group think involved, being confronted as they prepare to committ mayhem. They just be stopped; at least stopped long enough to think about what they are about to do and the potential consequences. Besides the monetary benefit of preventing any damage, there is a real spiritual value to guiding someone away from wrongdoing rather than simply punishing them, right? Changing a thought rather than forgiving an act.

Ok, so we have natural surveillance and electronic surveillance and each can be reached differenct ways - far too numerous to cover here effectively. However, we neglected the value and method of increasing natural surveillance earlier. Natural surveillance often has the primary benefit lower cost. Let's face it, people moving around normally is, well, free. It does unfortunately breakdown when traffic is reduced. So how then can traffic be increased? Maybe by using the facility as much as possible for community events, although let me caution briefly that this creates other potential loss opportunities; or possibly security patrols can be added. This could be from a formal security service or by dedicated congregation members that will take time to check on the facility. It may also be possible to use the camera systems mentioned above on a private website with access available to congregation members. Possibly a "patrol" schedule could be created with specific members agreeing to keep an eye it. Like I said, once we get creative there just isn't enough room here for the options.

There is, at least, one other bit of technology to assit in preventing vandalism and that's vandalism resistant paint. This tool works to prevent other paints from bonding to the material permenantly. One word of caution is that the cost for materials could be as much 10x that of ordinary paint.

Here's a short article in Religious Product News on technology trends in security.

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Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Security Technology - tools and trends

Religious Product News technology issue is out and with it a short article I put together..

I know the entire basis of my security philosophy is the "Security is what you do and not what you have," and it is. However, that is not to say that technology is some sort of evil that should be shunned. What can it do for you?

Technology cannot create exceptional security. It can make exceptional security easier, apparently seamless, and less noticeable. After all, we all want better security but we don't want to tilt the "Security v. Convenience" scale too far, right?

No one wants to be inconvenienced; least of all me. I'm a bear at the airport. Why? Because that security is an illusion. I've been inconvenienced at many facilities and, as annoying as it might have been, it was effective. I remember one jewelry manufacturer out West. No one told me it was a no-metal facility so I had to conduct my survey without a belt or any other bits of personal possessions. Losing the belt was particularly difficult since I had just lost a little weight and the pants were a from before that time. Effective security makes some things bearable, but illusionary stuff is just annoying.

So once you start with a well designed security program that's built around processes and engineering the environment the technology becomes a creature comfort. It makes the other stuff easier. Now you no longer need a guard at a door to identify you (or maybe you still do). Now you no longer need to patrol your property with a quality alarm and response system (and maybe you still do).

All this article is meant to do is provide a snapshot into where technology is right now and how some of that can be of help to you and your congregation. Creating a Safe Sanctuary should make "God's House" more secure and not turn it into "God's Fortress."

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