The Department of Homeland Security is actively engaging with Sikh Americans to prevent hate and terror-related attacks at gurdwaras, Scott Breor, director of the Protective Security Coordination Division at DHS, said at a Dec. 20 briefing.
In a conversation moderated by Sim Singh, national advocacy manager at the Sikh Coalition – the nation’s largest Sikh advocacy group – Breor noted that his division has 119 security advisers across the country who work with malls, hospitals, houses of worship and other large public venues to prevent vulnerability to attacks, and to initiate and implement safety plans.
“We cannot sit back passively in today’s environment. We all know what first responders are; we need to be first preventers,” said Breor.
Singh noted the number of recent attacks at houses of worship, including last month’s shooting which killed 26 people at the First Baptist Church in rural Sutherland Springs, Texas; the 2015 shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in downtown Charleston, South Carolina, at which avowed white supremacist Dylann Roof killed nine African Americans; and the Aug. 5, 2012 massacre at a gurdwara in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, at which neo-Nazi Wade Michael Page killed six Sikh Americans and injured three others before killing himself.
Page had been identified as a white supremacist by U.S. intelligence months before the tragic shootings, the worst ever in Sikh American history.
Asked by Singh whether the DHS or the FBI were currently investigating possible future attacks at Sikh gurdwaras, Breor responded: “There are no specific credible threats to gurdwaras right now.” He noted, however, that his team of security advisers “can’t reach everywhere all the time.”
“There are bad actors out there and bad events happen,” he said.
“Protecting houses of worship needs to be a high nationality priority,” countered Singh.
DHS’s team of security advisers will do a free assessment of security at any house of worship, said Breor, noting that the division has recently released the Hometown Security Initiative, which mandates resources for prevention of attacks at public venues. The vulnerability assessment will include a walk-through the facility to determine areas of vulnerability which could be open to attacks.
At the Oak Creek gurdwara, Page simply walked through the open front door and began shooting.
“We recognize through many years of experience that houses of worship need to be open, but where do you control access?” Breor queried. He also noted that gurdwaras and other houses of worship often don’t have sufficient revenue to employ full time security guards.
DHS advisers can help gurdwaras to create a plan to prevent hate and terror attacks, and also to implement strategies for managing active shooter situations. Importantly, advisers can also help with plans for disseminating information to congregants after a hate or terror attack.
About 52 gurdwaras nationwide have already availed of the security assessment; Singh noted that more than 1700 have not yet participated. The Sikh Coalition has prepared and distributed a Gurdwara Security Toolkit - in English & Punjabi – to 200 gurdwaras nationwide. The kit can be downloaded here.
Free gurdwara security consultations with DHS can be scheduled by e-mailing Aasees Kaur at Aasees@sikhcoalition.org.