New Jersey Homeland Security officials have started holding meetings with houses of worship around the Garden State, discussing possible terror threats they may face, and what can be done to stop attacks before they’re carried out.

Patrick R. Rigby, chief of staff of the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness, said the idea is to ensure that residents and visitors who participate in community and religious gatherings in New Jersey are free to do so without fear for their safety.

Rigby said security is a major concern because houses of worship are generally open-access public-assembly venues, and terrorists have targeted them in the past.

“We want to make sure we find a balance between respecting the openness and welcoming nature of these houses of worship with the latest security protocols and procedures," Rigby said.

Rigby said to improve safety, churches, synagogues and mosques should “develop plans for security and emergency response, establish regular communications with your local law enforcement officials and conduct regular emergency response exercises with employees and staff.”

He also recommended religious leaders should incorporate security awareness and response procedures into training for their congregations.

Rigby said religious groups can improve security with locks, lights, cameras and different types of barriers, but they also must be aware of who comes into their building, and develop “basic security protocols and behavioral mechanisms that we can look for.

"We call them identifiers, to ensure that individual is there for the right reasons," he said.

He said security funding is available to houses of worship through the New Jersey Non-Profit Security Grant pilot program.

“Non profit organizations can apply for grant funding to hire security personnel, and acquire target hardening equipment to assist facilities preparedness," Rigby said.

He explained the houses of worship security meetings “are held at the request of county prosecutors, so if there’s interest we will send our folks out there to ensure they are working directly with local leaders, local law enforcement, and religious leaders within that county.”

New Jersey's homeland security office also holds regular meetings with the Interfaith Advisory Council, which has more than 2,000 members representing every major religion from all 21 Counties.

Rigby said any and all suspicious activity should be reported by calling 1-866-4-SAFE-NJ, or be emailingtips@njohsp.gov

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