NJ Office of Emergency Management

VENTNOR – What started as a municipality’s effort to assess the safety of its public buildings has synergized into a countywide security program for faith-based organizations.

The New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness will conduct a program for Atlantic County’s houses of worship, including synagogues, mosques and churches, 5:30-8 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 29 at St. James Memorial Hall, 9 S. Newport Ave.

According to Ventnor Office of Emergency Management Coordinator Donna Peterson, Ventnor Police contacted the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office to conduct an assessment of all the city’s public buildings. The Prosecutor’s Office then contacted the NJ Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness to put on the security program.

“We were working with Prosecutor’s Agent Joe McFadden to assess our properties to help with budgeting for capital projects,” Peterson said. “Then the shooting in Pittsburgh happened and we thought to assess St. James Church as well.”

The city’s efforts to improve safety for residents has synergized into providing safety for worshipers as well.

McFadden reached out to Homeland Security to have one centralized program for all religious institutions in Atlantic County, Peterson said.

The agenda includes active shooter response training, facility self-assessment tools and presentation of resources available through the Department of Human Services, which assists offices of emergency management during emergencies.

“The agenda will give people ideas about what they should look for at their facilities and implement small safety procedures that help people feel comfortable,” Peterson said.

Although recent hate crimes targeted synagogues, the program is for all faith-based organizations, she said.

“After the event in Pittsburgh, Ventnor Police sent officers to our synagogues, but it is not a regular program. It was more like a response to the event and to help people feel reassured,” she said.

The assessment like the one the county is doing at St. James Church is also available to other religious institutions upon request, she said.

Churches of all denominations, mosques and synagogues from throughout the county can reserve a seat at the seminar by registering at http://www.surveymonkey.com/r/HTJQK5R.

Nanette LoBiondo Galloway

Award winning journalist covering news, events and people of Atlantic County for more than 20 years.