Technology Talk: Restoring Refuge: Using Technology to Enhance the Security of Places of Worship

In November 2015, Augusta University in Georgia and the U.S. Department of Justice joined hands to sponsor the first-ever Safety and Security Summit to Assist Houses of Worship. The U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Georgia moderated a panel of representatives from the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA’s) Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships; the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI); the Georgia Emergency Management Agency; and the Richmond County and Columbia County, Georgia, Sheriff’s Offices. The summit participants discussed a wide variety of concepts and tools, including WorshipSafe, an app in development by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) that will be released to law enforcement agencies for distribution to houses of worship administrators, leaders, or lay members.

It has become apparent over the past few years that some of the places traditionally thought of as safe havens are no longer places of refuge. For years, people have generally thought of their homes, schools, workplaces, and houses of worship as places where they could feel safe and free from worry of harm. This is no longer the case.

A recent study conducted by the FBI looked at 160 active threat and active shooter incidents in the United States. The statistics indicate an alarming rate of increase in active shooters each year of the 13-year period examined in the study. During that time, 486 people were killed, with another 557 wounded, in active shooter incidents, and those numbers don’t include the recent shootings at the Chattanooga, Tennessee, military recruiting center; the Charleston, South Carolina, Emanuel AME Church; and the Colorado Springs, Colorado, Planned Parenthood facility.