Last week, the trial of the man who admitted to shooting and killing nine people at a church got underway.


When confessed killer Dylann Roof set out to kill black people in an attempt to spark a race war, he specifically chose the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C. as the location for his horrific crime in part because he thought it would be an easy target. He counted on attendees to be meet, and resistance to be minimal.

Sadly, the June 2015 shootings at Mother Emanuel were not the first time a house of worship was attacked by a madman with an agenda. In 2012, a Sikh temple in Wisconsin was targeted and six worshippers were killed;  a grandfather and grandson attending an activity at a Jewish Community Center in Kansas City, Kansas were gunned down in 2014; seven attendees at a youth rally were killed at Wedgwood Baptist Church in Ft. Worth, Texas in 1999.

Add to that the dozens of other types of deadly incidents that occur on properties of faith-based organizations each year, and it is clear that churches, synagogues, temples and other sacred spaces are at risk.

What makes them vulnerable? The reasons are varied.

Faith communities may be targeted for their beliefs, ethnic or religious makeup, as in the case of the Charleston shooting. Faith-based gathering places also tend to be open and welcoming by design, so it is not difficult to gain access. Troubled people also tend to seek out help from religious leaders, and incidents sparked by mental health, domestic violence and issues may erupt on church property. Faith-based organizations are also often employers, and are not immune from workplace violence.

What can houses of worship do to reduce risk? Resources are available from a variety of sources. Most major church insurers offer comprehensive guidebooks and training (see here and here), as do many denominational organizations. Houses of worship should also work with local law enforcement agencies for advice and training.

Houses of worship may also consider enhancements to facilities by adding security features such as video surveillance and gunshot detection, both of which are offered by ECT Services.

The Guardian gunshot detection system developed by Shooter Detection Systems, which works by using acoustic and infrared sensors to instantly identify gunshots. The precise location of the gunshots is noted, and authorities are alerted immediately. Warnings are also instantly sent out to people in the facility and vicinity advising them to evacuate or take cover. This video demonstrates the basics of the system.

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