Congregations Look to New Security Measures. (News)

The Christian Century, October 24, 2001 | Go to article overview

Congregations Look to New Security Measures. (News)


Across the United States, thousands of houses of worship have beefed up or requested information about security after the possibility of more terrorist attacks--a matter made more urgent after the U.S. began airstrikes against targets in Afghanistan. In particular, some cathedrals and highly visible megachurches as well as large mosques and synagogues have taken extra precautions.

Washington's National Cathedral has been on high alert since September 11. Captain Vince Scola, who commands the cathedral's police force, has increased the staff. His 17 officers now conduct more physical checks of the building and random checks of backpacks and packages. At special events, they use hand-held metal detectors purchased as a direct result of the assaults on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

"I hate to admit it, but we can be a potential target just because of what we represent," Scola said. "The National Cathedral is a church for all people. It's a national treasure. We must maintain that thought and be constantly on alert because the best defense is to be on alert." The cathedral averages between 600 and 800 attendees for weekend services but reaches its 3,200-person capacity during special worship days such as Christmas Eve, Easter and the National Day of Prayer service September 14.

Congregations of all sizes have wanted to learn more. "We've seen an increase in requests," said Jeff Hanna, executive director for the Guide One Center for Risk Management in Des Moines, Iowa, which represents 48,000 houses of worship. "We've sent out our agents and most have reported that their policyholders want to know how to better protect themselves."

Since U.S. and British airstrikes began on October 7 and U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft said days later that general, but credible, domestic threats have been received by federal authorities, officials of the nondenominational Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky, said they would continue to reevaluate security. "The main threat now is retaliation on the U.S., whether it be a physical or a biological act," said Ron Aguiar, director of safety and security for the church, which draws an estimated 15,000 churchgoers to its 100-acre campus each weekend.

"If this becomes more and more of a threat, if the FBI raises the bar, then we will do what everybody else does," he said. "We will limit accessibility and add even more security. …

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