As U.S. Attorney for the state of Colorado, one of my top concerns is working to protect Colorado communities from all types of threats, whether they be active shooters or hate crimes against religious institutions. One of our key focus areas in Colorado has been building resilience within communities to both prevent and respond to threats.


Why? We are living in a markedly different threat environment than we experienced just five years ago. Today, planned attacks have been increasingly less complex, often committed by lone actors who are inspired by violent ideology online, have easy access to weapons, hide their plans from their friends and families, and aim to attack civilians. Whether they are active shooters targeting schools or movie theaters, or those receiving inspiration and direction from overseas terror groups online, it is difficult to detect all of these plots in advance.  Robust information sharing amongst government organizations and community leaders has never been more important.


Regrettably, at the same time that this sort of threat has become more difficult to detect, we are also seeing an uptick in backlash incidents against innocent Muslim American and Sikh American communities across the country. The attacks in Paris, France and San Bernardino, California coupled with some national political rhetoric, have contributed to this backlash. Critically, however, attacks are not unique to these faith communities – a shooter in Charleston, South Carolina killed nine worshippers at an African American AME church, a shooter targeted Planned Parenthood here in Colorado, and synagogues rank with mosques as the top targets for hate crimes towards religious centers.


Because lone actors may not be on law enforcement’s radar, we need our faith communities to be prepared to respond—both to try and prevent people from becoming radicalized in support of violence, but to also form security plans to respond if attacks do happen, for those crucial minutes before law enforcement arrives.


One very successful initiative to build such resilience has been the Protecting Houses of Worship (PHOW) initiative, where we partner with law enforcement and community leaders from multiple faiths to deliver and share information to interfaith community audiences on how they can better protect their houses of worship from threats. We initiated these PHOW events in Colorado following the devastating attack at the AME Church in Charleston, and we’ve held five PHOW events in different cities up and down Colorado’s Front Range, which have been heavily and enthusiastically attended by a broad array of faith communities.


In the spirit of sharing the information that has proved to be a highly successful program meeting a strongly perceived need in the faith community with our national counterparts, here’s a summary of our goals and thinking for these events:


What do we hope to accomplish with PHOW events?

What are the benefits for law enforcement?

What are the topics covered at PHOW events?

We organize speakers to cover a variety of topics, followed a Q&A panel with the speakers at the end. Speakers cover:

These events are easy to plan and put on if you identify the right mix of subject matter experts. Our team here in Colorado has prepared a detailed guide with more information on how to plan a PHOW event, you can download it here.


We hope that this information can be concretely helpful to any other government or community entity working to protect the community by building expertise and resilience in the community itself.