Faith Based Organizations - Houses of Worship

Faith Based Organizations / Houses of Worship (FBO-HOW)

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) is committed to supporting efforts to maintain safe and secure houses of worship and related facilities while sustaining an open and welcoming environment.  In the last several years, America has experienced an increase in targeted violence against our faith-based communities and organizations. Houses of worship and their congregants, and individuals with a particular faith identity, have been terrorized and, in some cases, attacked ruthlessly and injured or brutally murdered.  In partnership with the Office of Partnership Engagement, and the DHS Center for Faith and Opportunity Initiatives, we have brought together resources that assist in securing physical and cyber infrastructure.

CISA aims to provide a one stop shop for guidance and resources that will inform FBO-HOW security-based decisions.  Included below are numerous resources which provide building blocks for effective safety and security programs.  The resources include assessment, training, planning, exercises, and other materials focused on a wide range of man-made threats (e.g., bombing, active shooter, vehicle ramming, etc.) that could be used against the FBO-HOW community.

Creating a Safe and Secure Environment

Building and providing a safe and secure environment for faith-based communities is no different than typical security planning but with nuances that are respective of a congregation’s desires on openness and access, engagement with attendees, and the rituals that may be impacted by heightened security. 

No matter what the final secure environment looks like there are several factors that must be considered when making security decisions related to planning and security enhancements.  These factors influence the risk associated with your facility which in turn provide you with focus areas to begin lowering risk and as a result create a more safe and secure environment.

These factors which influence your facility’s overall security risk include Threat, Vulnerability and Consequence.  CISA has provided resources below that are focused on two parts of the risk equation, which when used effectively can lower your risk and improve the security, safety, and preparedness.

Vulnerability Mitigation 

When considering security risk, a vulnerability is a weakness which an adversary may take advantage to inflict an attack or inhibit your operations.  To assist with identifying these vulnerabilities, CISA recommends review and use of the following resources.

FBO-HOW Security Self-Assessment

The first step in creating an improved security posture is understanding the risk to your organization or facility. Assessing your risk will allow for the development of a quality security plan and improve overall preparedness. To begin that process CISA has developed a baseline security self-assessment that is designed for a person, with little to no security experience, to complete a security assessment.  Successful completion and review of the recommendation can provide a path towards lowering risk and improving security.   

Protecting Houses of Worship video

Today, houses of worship face a unique set of safety and security challenges that weren't there just a few years ago.  This video offers a look at those challenges and demonstrates how law enforcement, houses of worship, and other partners can work together to report suspicious behavior and raise security awareness, while forging positive relationships within the community.

Houses of Worship Hometown Security Report Series May 2017

Numerous studies estimate there are between 300,000 and 400,000 religious congregations in the United States. Many people think of a house of worship as a safe area where violence and emergencies cannot affect them. However, violence in a house of worship is not a new phenomenon and many facilities are developing and updating security and emergency plans and procedures to ensure the safety and security of their congregations, visitors, staff, and facilities.

Employee Vigilance - Power of Hello

Every day we face a variety of potential threats, both internal and external, from hostile governments, terrorist groups, disgruntled employees and malicious introducers. Alert employees can spot suspicious activity and report it. The power is in the employee, citizen, patron, or any person who can observe and report.

Used effectively, the right words can be a powerful tool. Simply saying “Hello” can prompt a casual conversation with unknown individuals and help you determine why they are there. The OHNO approach – Observe, Initiate a Hello, Navigate the Risk, and Obtain Help – helps employees observe and evaluate suspicious behaviors, and empowers them to mitigate potential risk, and obtain help when necessary.

The Power of Hello Houses of Worship: This guide promotes employee vigilance for our houses of worship stakeholders. Alert personnel can spot suspicious activity and report it. Keeping houses of worship facilities secure while sustaining the open and welcoming environment necessary for peaceful congregation requires a holistic approach to security. 

DHS Protective Security Advisors

The Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) operates the Protective Security Advisor (PSA) Program. PSAs are trained critical infrastructure protection and vulnerability mitigation subject matter experts who facilitate local field activities in coordination with other Department of Homeland Security offices. They also advise and assist state, local, and private sector officials and critical infrastructure facility owners and operators.

Consequence Mitigation

As a factor in reducing risk consequence mitigation can be achieved through numerous processes.   Two of the easiest ways to minimize the potential consequences is through security and emergency planning along with focused training of both staff and congregants.  

Securing Soft Targets and Crowded Places  

In order to support FBO/HOWs in mitigating potential risks associated with today’s threat environment, the Department of Homeland Security developed a number of resources focused on improving security and implementing protective measures associated with Soft targets and crowded places.  

Active Assailant Security Resources

Active shooter incidents are often unpredictable and evolve quickly. In the midst of the chaos, anyone can play an integral role in mitigating the impacts of an active shooter incident. DHS aims to enhance preparedness through a "whole community" approach by providing products, tools, and resources to help you prepare for and respond to an active shooter incident

Faith-Based Security Amid COVID-19

On October 27, 2020, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), The U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), and the InfraGard National Capital Region held a Faith-Based Security and Safety Symposium webinar to discuss best practices and risk mitigation strategies for protecting houses of worship amid the COVID-19 pandemic

FEMA Preparedness and Planning Resources

Across the United States, Americans congregate in faith-based venues to worship, learn, play, and bond as a community.  In coordination with interagency partners, the DHS Center for Faith & Opportunity Initiatives and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) established a website for faith-based organizations that serves as a “one-stop shop” for information on available Federal tools, resources, and assistance. 

Guide for Developing High Quality Emergency Operations Plans for Houses of Worship

In collaboration with other houses of worship and community partners (i.e., governmental entities that have a responsibility in the plan, including first responders, public health officials, and mental health officials), houses of worship can take steps to plan for these potential emergencies through the creation of an emergency operations plan (EOP). 

FEMA Grants Programs

The US Department of Homeland Security through FEMA provides nonprofit security grants which are managed in partnership through each states Homeland Security Advisors office.  These competitive based grants can provide funding to improve facility security, preparedness and emergency planning.

Was this document helpful?  Yes  |  Somewhat  |  No