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Virginia nonprofit helps places of worship to harden security

At a time when places of worship are counted among the locations of deadly mass shootings, a Leesburg, Virginia-based nonprofit group is working to harden security at churches, synagogues, mosques and other religious facilities.

Faith-Based Information Sharing and Analysis Organization, or FB-ISAO, works across faith lines, with all denominations, to help analyze and share threat and risk information in hopes of building security and resilience across the community of faith here in the United States,” said Andy Jabbour, managing director of FB-ISAO.

Just a few of the places of worship that experienced the horrors of a mass shooting include the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, where a gunman killed 11 people last October; the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas, where 26 people were killed in 2017; and the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, where nine people were killed in a bible study class in 2015.

“You’re never going to build a fortress or a wall around a place of worship or other faith-based organization to make them inaccessible. But we can do a lot of things to help build security and resilience, so we worship more peacefully, so we can be more prepared,” Jabbour said.

The group doesn’t advocate or oppose armed security at places of worship, but Jabbour said physical security is more complex and much can be improved by common sense measures.

“It starts with … basic procedures … things like evacuation drills, things like background checks, things like knowing who is where in your facility, who has access to what in your facility,” Jabbour said.

The group works to not only improve physical security but cybersecurity as well.

“A lot of people like to think that ‘I’m not a target, it’s the banks, it’s the hospitals,’ but in reality everybody’s a target, and sometimes that’s very specifically targeted at a place of worship,” Jabbour said.

Beyond physical and cybersecurity, FB-ISAO also helps to prepare places of worship against public health concerns, including flu season and even natural disasters caused by severe weather.

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