By Sadie-Anne Jones
On 08 June 2022, a man drove his vehicle into a group of students in Berlin, Germany. The attack resulted in the death of a teacher and the injury of 14 students. The incident happened close to the site “where 12 people were killed in a terrorist attack in 2016 when a truck was deliberately driven into a crowd of people at a Christmas market.” While vehicle ramming is often used in terrorist attacks, it has also become a tool of lone-wolf assailants who seek to inflict harm on certain individuals and communities. Vehicle Ramming attacks require minimum capability such as a car or truck, often have few or no observable factors, due to the element of surprise, and can have a devastating impact on special events and crowded places.
Although vehicle ramming incidents account for only 5% of attacks against houses of worship in the United States, when they do occur, they can be extremely destructive to both life and property. A report by the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) states that “attacks of this nature require minimal capability but can have a devastating impact in crowded places with low levels of visible security.” For houses of worship, this issue is particularly concerning due to the crowds who frequently flock to congregate and the low levels of security that are often available. In light of this, it is important to understand personal and group risk associated with this issue.
Below are a few examples of hate crimes involving vehicle ramming incidents against religious organizations and individuals.
- In April 2022, several attacks — including the attack of a person using a vehicle — took place in New Jersey. The attacks were allegedly motivated by antisemitism.
- In September 2021, a man crashed his car into a synagogue in Los Angeles, California. The attack came shortly after the man had been witnessed yelling antisemitic threats at people there.
- In July 2020, an attack against a Catholic church in Florida occurred in which a man rammed his vehicle into the occupied building and then proceeded to set it on fire.
- In April 2020, a man rammed his vehicle into the car of a Muslim woman. The woman had been harassed with Islamophobic threats by the man earlier that day.
While it is difficult to foresee and stop attacks, there are ways to mitigate the risk and damage caused by vehicle ramming. The CISA Mitigating Attacks on Houses of Worship, states that “managing traffic patterns and engaging volunteers, greeters, security personnel, or law enforcement to direct traffic, especially during peak times, can help identify suspicious activity. Installing barriers, such as concrete planters or bollards, can also create a ‘stand-off’ zone to help protect congregants.”
Additionally, Faith-Based Organizations are encouraged to use CISA’s Vehicle Ramming Self-Assessment Tool to evaluate their individual risk for vehicle ramming attacks. The tool allows the user to input data such as entrance dimensions, congregation space, population density, etc. into the tool. The data is then used to build a Vulnerabilities and Options for Consideration (VOFCs) report. Each suggestion laid out in the VOFCs report addresses a risk identified from the data provided and can be utilized to mitigate those risks. Much like the CISA House of Worship Security Self-Assessment Tool, the Vehicle Ramming Self-Assessment Tool is a self-driven tool that provides an easy to follow road map for implementing suggested voluntary options for consideration. The options are based on current best practices designed to improve facility security and preparedness.
What users have really liked about the tool is the report it generates. It is intended to not be a finished report but allows the user to add photos, additional information, and other area-specific considerations to the report for security planning
SUSAN SCHNEIDER , BRANCH CHIEF, ACTIVE ASSAILANT SECURITY OFFICE OF SECURITY PROGRAMS, INFRASTRUCTURE SECURITY DIVISION, CISA
Users of the tool will also find an Information and Resources page featuring useful questions and advice on vehicle ramming as a threat.
Organizations are encouraged to:
- Evaluate their security. This includes touching base with local law enforcement or other security partners for increased awareness of the local environment which will enable organizations to make the appropriate risk-informed decisions.
- Brush-up on de-escalation procedures and best practices by referring to CISA’s De-Escalation Series.
- Remind employees and members about how to handle various scenarios in the immediate term.
- Share any potential threats within the community and on the appropriate FB-ISAO Slack Channel.
- Review FB-ISAO Resources.