Houses of worship are places where community members can congregate and practice their faith or find sanctuary in times of trial. They can serve as a gathering place to celebrate a new life or mourn the loss of a loved one. Traditionally, houses of worship are thought of as safe places. Lately, however, that thought is not necessarily a reality.
In an effort to safeguard houses of worship in the Augusta area, Georgia Regents University Department of Sociology, Criminal Justice and Social Work and the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Southern District of Georgia are hosting Houses of Worship: Safety and Security Summit from 8:30 to 11:30 a.m. Tuesday, Nov. 24, at the Maxwell Theatre.
The event is part of a nationwide plan by the Department of Justice (DOJ) to make houses of worship safer, according to Dr. William A. Reese, professor of sociology and criminal justice.
Objectives of the summit include creating an opportunity for sharing of safety and security concerns. There will also be time for worship administrators to share and learn of unique safety and security challenges on their campus. Approximately 500 clergy members are invited to attend the summit. It is also open to interested students and community members.
Representatives from the National Institute of Justice, Department of Homeland Security (DHS), DOJ, FBI and local law enforcement officials will serve as panelists. Marcus Coleman, special assistant in DHS Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, is a keynote speaker. Ed Tarver, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Georgia, will moderate. Mayor Hardie Davis and Dr. Brooks Keel, Georgia Regents University president, will also address attendees.
“It’s a way to open a discussion between community members and elected officials,” Reese said. “There is also an educational function. This whole thing is about starting to educate clergy and the public on how you would go about determining what kind of risk your house of worship may have.”
The summit also aims to inform house of worship leaders of the current efforts and future products designed to facilitate increased safety and security on their campuses. Details on a new 2016 National Institute of Justice software application will be discussed.
“This software is meant to be a risk assessment that leaders of a given congregation can administer themselves and then proceed from there to determine what kind of safeguards can be put into place,” Reese said. “It is a way for congregations to assess needs and risks.”
Attendees will have the opportunity to view the software and provide feedback to DOJ representatives.
The event will also include a private showing of the newly released FBI video “The Coming Storm,” depicting a college-campus active shooter scenario and interviews with the victims and incident commanders.
Reese is looking forward to the event and encourages anyone who may be interested to attend.
“I’m honored to be a part of a systematic effort to make our houses of worship safer,” Reese said. “Given recent events, this is incredibly important.”