Security: Houses of Worship

by Secure Community Network (SCN)


The synagogue is the most prevalent and arguably the most important institution in American Jewish life.  One measure of its significance is that more Jews belong to a synagogue than to any other Jewish organization.  The synagogue is classically depicted as the site for prayer, study and communal gathering.  As a house of worship, the synagogue also serves as a place of companionship, communal identification, children's education and information exchange.

Synagogues are potential targets for terrorist attacks because of the ability to inflict casualties, instill fear and cause political impacts.  These facilities serve the Jewish community and assure the presence of a significant number of American citizens at certain times of the week. Damage or destruction of a house of worship could inflict mass casualties, primarily on site; could shut the facility down; and could have widespread psychological impacts. 

Specific terrorist threats of concern to synagogues include the following; for additional information about these threats, please follow the links located in the 'DHS SAFETY & SECURITY RESOURCES' section on this page:

  • Explosives threats (e.g. suicide bombs, vehicle bombs)
  • Arson threats (e.g. fire bombs, accelerants)
  • Automatic weapons attack (e.g. indiscriminate shooting of members)
  • Other weapons attack (e.g. motors, rocket-propelled grenades, or small arms)
  • Biological threats introduced into the synagogue (e.g. anthrax, botulism)
  • Chemical threats (e.g. chemical warfare agents, toxic industrial chemicals)
  • Hostage taking

Disruption of a facility without inflicting casualties could erode the confidence of religious group members in returning to the site. In addition, any significant terrorist attack would have a cascading effect. Concern over safety and fear that an attack could occur elsewhere may cause members to avoid attending services nationwide, dealing a significant psychological and economic blow to the synagogue.

Many security measures are available that are low in cost or no cost at all. An excellent first step is to contact your local law enforcement agency and have them conduct a vulnerability assessment at your site. This assessment will provide numerous recommendations to strengthen your crime and terrorism prevention efforts.

Also, notify your local police of your schedule of meetings and all religious services. The law enforcement agency can best determine what resources should be made available for security, crowd control and traffic purposes. 

Houses of worship were rarely the focus of security or crime prevention efforts - except those targeting hate crime - prior to the tragedy of 9/11. There is no guarantee that crime or terrorism prevention measures will succeed and there is no "foolproof" security. However, multiple prevention strategies provide defenses that protect people and assets, deter offenders and help to avoid a major incident against a house of worship.

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