PLEASANTVILLE — In response to concerns about attacks in places of worship across the country, local officials are holding a forum to raise awareness about what to do and how to plan in Atlantic County.
Perry Mays, chairman of the Coalition for a Safe Community in Atlantic County, said people in the community have voiced concern about violent incidents, shootings and threats made in places of worship during the past year, most recently the shootings that killed 26 people at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas.
“That really scared people,” Mays said.
So the coalition, along with the Fellowship of Churches and law-enforcement agencies around the county, will host a forum Dec. 19 to foster education and awareness on how to keep places of worship — including churches, mosques and synagogues — in the county safe.
“For many, many years, or centuries, the church and houses of worship have been a safe space,” Mays said. “Who would have ever thought that his would be happening in 2017?”
The forum will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. on Dec. 19 at the WinSan Center, at 353 South New Road in Pleasantville. It will feature representatives from the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security, the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office and local law enforcement departments in the county, including Pleasantville, Atlantic City, Galloway and Egg Harbor City.
Members and leaders of houses of worship around the county, including ushers, security personnel and parking lot attendants, are invited to attend. Organizers hope to address how to review proper security procedures, how to create an exit plan if there’s an emergency and who to look for help from if there might be a violent incident.
Those who are at the “front lines” of house of worship leadership are those who would see a perpetrator or a sign of violence at first glance, Mays said.
The forum will also discuss protocols for what people should do if there is an active shooter situation.
“We’ve been hearing concerns from different religious groups and leaders,” Mays said. “We just want to be proactive.”