The Rise of Attacks on Houses of Worship, Threat-Risk Notes

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Author & Background

Mario Caraballo is a retired U.S. Army Warrant Officer and Senior Executive Service with operational experience in crisis management, counterintelligence and Human Intelligence. He is a managing partner at Se7ven Arrows Crisis Management Group.  Mario wrote this article in response to recent events in Colombo, Sri Lanka & Poway, California.  Mario has been advocating for better security in houses of worship for some time.


The Rise of Attacks on Houses of Worship, Threat-Risk Notes

On Sunday April 21, 2019 the earth shook hard and it was not the typical earthquake, it was a cowardly attack on Christian churches and luxury hotels across the capital in the small island, of Colombo, Sri Lanka, and two other towns, leaving behind a deadly trail of death with at least 290 dead and more than 500 injured foreigners. The government had received warning.


On Saturday April 27, 2019, another earthquake rocked the town of Poway California were a gunman attacked the Chabad of Poway synagogue, north of San Diego, California. The attack took place on the last day of Jewish Passover holiday. The attack left, one woman dead & three people injured, including the synagogue’s rabbi. After fleeing the scene, the alleged gunman phoned 911 and reported the shooting. He was apprehended in his car on Rancho Bernardo Road and Interstate 15 by a San Diego police officer.

The terrorist-racist gunman left an open letter on 8chan web board blaming Jews for the “planned genocide of the European race” and other evil lies. The gunman also claimed responsibility for a March 2019 arson attack on a mosque in Escondido, California.


On Friday March 15, 2019, the Christchurch mosque shootings took place, two consecutive terrorist attacks at mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, during Friday Prayer.  The attacks began at the Al Noor Mosque in the suburb of Riccarton at 1:40 pm and continued at the Linwood Islamic Centre at about 1:55 pm.  The commonalities of these crimes are the hateful sentiments of anti-Semites, white nationalist, anti-Muslim bigotry and the lack of security in all these houses of worship.



Most place of worship do not have the adequate protection or security to protect themselves from random or terrorist attacks, and staff are inadequately trained to handle such dreadful events.  The first step must be for clergy to take seriously the threat they face and be more security conscious of such attacks.  They must understand the motivation of an attacker which is hostility to a group or faith. While the risk to churches, cathedrals, mosques and synagogues is low, the probability of these places of worship being involved in a terror attack is high. Actual incidents of violence in places of worship will likely be similar to the scenarios we have seen in recently this year.


“Yet violence and abuse are regular occurrences at U.S. churches and some don’t think anything needs to be done. They still send their children into churches that refuse to take security seriously” Carl Chinn.


What can congregations do to protect themselves?


  1. Awareness

Congregation leadership needs to provide situational training and awareness for members. Leadership must ensure that a chain of responsibility is established and the decision-making structure is known to all members. Leadership must solicit input from the congregation before any security measures are implemented. Remember the culture of each congregation is different and must be taken into consideration when developing a security plan.

  1. Understand the threat is real

Threats to houses of worship vary in degree and probability. The city in which you live and the threats you may face differ, and all of them are critical in individual context and require specific actions to protect against them. Mass shootings should not be considered a low-probability event for all houses of worship. Congregations in high crime areas will face different challenges than a small church in a small low-crime town in rural areas.

  1. Prepare for the threat

We live in a world where violence is common and unpredictable. We are not immune to threats in a house of worship. The reality we face is church leaders must be prepared, and plan to protect its members.

  • Congregation should designate a security manager/advisor. If a law enforcement or security official attends your church She/he is a good candidate for this position
  • Adapt a secure-mindful approach, make sure it’s a budgeted item
  • Conduct an annual risk assessment
  • Identify safe rooms, strengths and weaknesses in the interior and exterior of the facility
  • Hire security professionals to guard outside and inside the congregation
  • Conduct training and Practice drills for active shooter
  • Learn basic first aid skills and have trauma kit bags available
  • Ensure safety and security and a continuous process for active security measures




Security in a Church Think About It-CARL (2019)


1 Dead, Rabbi and 2 Others Injured in Synagogue Shooting Near San Diego-TARA LAW AND PETER ALLEN CLARK-TIME (2019)