The aftermath of the shocking attack by Hamas and Palestinian militants on Israel and the response in Gaza are grim reminders of the dangers of terrorism on a large scale, and serves as an affirmation at home of the need for preparedness and public engagement.
In the United States, which lost at least nine citizens in the Mideast violence, there is renewed concern about safety in various enclaves and in places of faith, where many will gather to mourn, pay respects, and pray.
In the coming days, these places may be attractive targets for terrorists, underscoring the importance of increased vigilance and preparedness for all who may be involved.
Sites such as Safe OC remind that we all play a role in protecting our communities. SafeOC states, “The campaign is focused on publicizing how an alert public plays a critical role in keeping Orange County safe. Together, the community can work together to fight back against local threats to public safety.”
Federal agencies are acutely aware of the susceptibility of places of worship. As the Department of Homeland Security notes: “An open environment where a significant number of people of the same faith congregate regularly at specified times to worship, study, celebrate special events, commemorate days of significance, and host public gatherings presents unique security challenges.”
That is why the Department of Homeland Security urges, “Members of the nation’s faith-based organizations and houses of worship can take steps to proactively reduce risks and provide safe, secure, and resilient places of worship and faith-based gatherings.
Local agencies have prepared resources for places of worship and the faithful on how to protect themselves. These include:
- The Department of Homeland Security
- Department of Justice
- The Federal Bureau of Investigation
- The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency
Already houses of worship have been in the crosshairs of culture wars and seen a spike in violence across the board amid a national surge in hate crime.
In March, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) reported anti-Semitic incidents reached an all-time high in the United States in 2022 with 3,697 antisemitic incidents, a 36 percent increase from 2021. The ADL began tracking antisemitic incidents in 1979.
Similarly, Christian churches and Islamic mosques have both seen escalating incidents of violence.
If it happens to you
The FBI stresses three tactics in descending order for those in an active shooter situation: run, hide, or fight.
“Learning these principles now will prepare and empower you to put them into practice — and survive — should the unthinkable occur,” writes the FBI.
Safe OC recommends the following:
- Run to the nearest exits, using available concealment while moving away.
- Hide if unable to evacuate, preferably in a secure area where access can be blocked. Otherwise seek cover behind any available hard cover out of line of sight from attack.
- Fight if there is no other option. Try to find anything to use as a weapon to incapacitate the attacker.
- Maintain situational awareness.
- Call 911 and remain alert for potential secondary attacks.
- Render first aid when safe to do so.
- When help arrives, follow instructions given by law enforcement and first responders.
Most active shooter events are over within five minutes and more than 35 percent end in less than two minutes, according to the FBI. For that reason authorities say pre-planning will help people react quickly and not freeze in instances where action is critical and seconds can mean life or death.
According to the FBI, “First responders will be on the scene within minutes. Until then… it’s up to you.”
Be on the lookout
Most of us have an internal warning system.
“Remember, do not ignore your feelings of uneasiness about a person or circumstances you may encounter,” Safe OC advises.
Although an overwhelming number of terrorist and mass shooting events happen with advance warning if you know what to look for, the coming days and months may be different.
If terrorists are reacting to recent events, such as in Israel, the attack may come quickly and with little warning.
Sgt. Gus Gonzalez, a SWAT member with the Tustin Police Department, preaches situational awareness in all things.
“You need to actually look around and observe people,” he said. “These days people have their heads in their phones or computers. They forget to look around and look at their surroundings. If you see something suspicious, think to yourself, ”Maybe I should continue to watch this person.”