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Houses of worship around the Valley are taking extra steps for security

Posted at 3:21 PM, May 03, 2019
and last updated 2019-05-03 20:43:26-04

PHOENIX — Ramadan begins at sundown on Sunday. It's considered the holiest month for the Muslim faith. But with recent attacks on houses of worship, some in the Valley are taking extra steps now to keep everyone safe.

"What are we doing about them, what are we doing to address this, is this a safe place for them to come, should they bring their kids or not," said Usama Shami with the Islamic Community Center of Phoenix.

Heartbreaking questions of concern have become the norm for churches, synagogues, and mosques.

As Ramadan kicks off this weekend, over the next month thousands will come here to the Islamic Community Center in a celebration of faith.

"During this month, besides the fasting, there are additional prayers," said Shami.

Shami says that means more visits to the mosque than any other time during the year. Security and threats of violence are now a constant focus.

"If they cut the power off they can get into the building," said Shami show us newly constructed gates and fences around power sources.

Shami gave us a tour of security enhancements put in place after a visit with homeland security.

"You could have just walked into the basement here, but now you have to have a key to open the gate," said Shami.

They looked at everything from securing electrical infrastructure, adding security cameras, to closing and locking access points once services are underway.

"If you have open access, someone can drive a car, speed up, do damage, and then can escape," said Shami outside the entrance to the mosque.

Trained volunteers guard the outside while plain clothed security takes the inside. Then there's the proactive approach they took beyond the walls, adding trees and landscaping to prevent another form of attack.

"If somebody wants to ram a car or something they will be encountered by all of this since this is the main prayer hall," said Shami pointing at the natural barrier.

We reached out to several leaders in both the Jewish and Christian communities who say they also took part in the training and call it eye-opening. Many were surprised by the vulnerabilities pointed out during the visit. All of them recommending other faith organizations to take part.

If you are interested in a security survey by Homeland Security or looking to apply for grants to pay for security enhancements, click here.