Video Expert: Houses of the Holy

Recently vandals struck a church in a small Alabama town, splashing gallons of white paint inside, destroying an organ, damaging a piano and stealing several items. The damage was estimated at $25,000.
There are recent reports of mosques throughout New York City being burglarized with thousands of dollars being taken from safes and donation boxes. In Southern California, swastikas were painted outside the entrance to a Jewish synagogue.

Events such as these – and others much worse – are becoming far too common at places of worship. Houses of worship often have valuable audiovisual equipment on site, as well as expensive furnishings and fixtures. Also, many of the events are the result of hate crimes aimed at a particular religion or congregation.

Most houses of worship are welcoming of unknown visitors and make their facilities open throughout the week to various community groups. Changing those policies goes against the basic tenants of most religious organizations. It is not uncommon for “those in need” to appear at a house of worship asking for money, or even sleep in their car in the church parking lot.

Many parishioners have a key to the church building, whether they still go to the church or not. An access control system can easily correct this problem, especially when the church requires a deposit that is refunded when the card is returned.

Any security measures must be subtle and unobtrusive. A video surveillance system can be extremely helpful. Cameras can be mounted discreetly, both inside and outside the sanctuary. They act as a deterrent to criminals who often know how to spot cameras.

Cameras should be placed at all entries, outside the office – or anyplace money may be kept – throughout the sanctuary and the parking lot. Many houses of worship also provide schools or daycare for children. They can give teachers and caregivers the ability to check on the children remotely. Cameras need to be viewing children’s playgrounds. And if the house of worship has its own network, it may also be possible to allow parents to do the same.

An audio-video door entry system can allow staff to lock the doors yet see and speak with visitors seeking entry after dark or when congregants’ contributions are being readied for bank deposit. Card access systems allow parents immediate entry to a secured wing, where the preschool, or daycare activities take place.

Digital video recorders (DVR’s) provide vital information for law enforcement in case of a criminal event. Also, be sure to place a monitor in the office so employees and volunteers can view the perimeter, especially as they head for the parking lot at night.

While these video systems are not inexpensive, lower costs and higher performance are bringing them into reach for more houses of worship. Do not forget to discuss other perimeter security solutions such as lighting, fencing and landscaping modifications.

From a marketing perspective, an integrator/dealer might want to consider spending a little time to prepare materials tailored at the houses of worship. Consider offering half-day seminars, free risk assessments and consultations as some integrators/dealers are beginning to do across the country. Sadly, this has become a major growth area for our industry.

John Krumme, CPP, is president and chief executive officer of Cam-Dex Security Corporation, with offices in Kansas City and St. Louis. He is also president of SecurityNet, an international network of 24 top independently owned security system integrators.