August 26, 2020

Senator Hassan Discusses Safety at Houses of Worship, Nonprofits During Virtual Roundtable

Participants Included Recipients of Nonprofit Security Grant Program that Senator Hassan Helped Expand

NEW HAMPSHIRE – U.S. Senator Maggie Hassan (D-NH), a member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, held a virtual roundtable discussion with New Hampshire leaders on efforts to protect nonprofits and houses of worship from foreign and domestic terrorist threats.

Participants included Laconia Police Chief Matthew Canfield; New Hampshire Homeland Security and Emergency Management Director Jennifer Harper and Section Chief Robert Christensen; Donald Bliss with the First Congregational Church of Hampton; Jewish Federation of New Hampshire’s Director of Outreach and Engagement, Allyson Guertin; Second Start Executive Director James Snodgrass and Principal and Associate Executive Director Bill Mealey; and Temple B’nai Israel President Ira Keltz.

“During the COVID-19 pandemic, [houses of worship] are under immense pressure to keep congregants safe while also making sure that their congregants are connected to their faith community,” said Senator Hassan. “We also know that even as the pandemic is ravaging our communities and country, we have to continue to plan for post-pandemic. We know that there are other threats to congregants’ safety and to those who work and participate in nonprofit offerings.”

Nonprofits and houses of worship who joined the roundtable recently received grants through the federal Nonprofit Grant Security Program that Senator Hassan worked to expand. Until last year, only houses of worship and nonprofit organizations located in major metropolitan area were eligible for certain grants to help them secure their facilities against potential foreign or domestic terrorist attacks. In January, President Trump signed into law bipartisan legislation cosponsored by Senator Hassan to codify in law that grant funding for houses of worship and nonprofit organizations must be available for small states like New Hampshire, not just major metropolitan areas.  

“As a member of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, I’ve worked with colleagues from both sides of the aisle to increase funding for nonprofits and houses of worship so that you all can strengthen your physical security…[This year’s grants] represent about a four times increase in what our state has received in the past,” said Senator Hassan. “Houses of worship…should be places where we feel our safest, and that’s one of the reasons that we worked so hard to make sure that these grants were available to a much wider group of applicants.”

“This was our very first time applying for a grant of almost any kind,” said Keltz. “We’re just very grateful for all the support and handholding we received from your office, from [Laconia Police] Chief Canfield, from [the Jewish Federation of New Hampshire’s] team, everyone else who assisted with putting together the program to keep our congregation safe in the years to come.”

Participants discussed how they will use the grants to strengthen security. Bliss discussed his church’s efforts to assess and address security threats and the online training program he’s working on that could support additional houses of worship as well. Bliss stated, “The exciting part of our grant I think is the work we’re doing on developing an online interactive training program for planning for, responding to, and recovering from an active shooter or hostile event involving a house of worship. And this is designed to be a pilot program or a seed program that not only will benefit our church but will hopefully go statewide or nationally eventually.” The initial training will be open to all houses of worship in Hampton and all Congregational churches in Rockingham County, which Bliss said could reach up to 8,000 people.

The Jewish Federation of New Hampshire is also working to educate synagogues across the state on ways to protect against threats. “We want to be able to provide lay leaders and volunteers the education that they need to keep themselves and their buildings safe as well,” said Guertin.

Participants also discussed the rising threats that communities face, especially anti-Semitism. “Just [recently] a swastika was painted on the outside of one of New Hampshire’s high schools. So while it’s not a direct verbal threat, it is something that scares the community,” said Guertin.

Senator Hassan responded, “It’s a good reminder of the work we still have to do. Because of course the other side of this work is the prevention of violence to begin with, and in particular, one of the things we’re trying to focus on for the Senate Homeland Security Committee is combating white supremacy and domestic terrorist groups as well.”

Earlier this year, Senators Hassan and James Lankford (R-OK) called for answers on what the Department of Homeland Security, FBI, and Intelligence Community are doing to address ongoing and emerging terrorist threats amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Senator Hassan also introduced bipartisan legislation earlier this year to establish a federal commission to reevaluate foreign and domestic counterterrorism information sharing and the ability of federal, state, and local law enforcement to identify, track, and prevent all terrorist threats in the United States.

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