Recent mass casualty incidents in Texas and New York City have some citizens questioning how safe they are in houses of worship and other public places.
According to data gathered by online crowdsourcing organization massshootingtracker.org, there have been more than 300 mass shootings in the United States so far this year, with each mass shooting defined as a single incident in which four or more people are shot. In one of the most recent, 25 people, including a pregnant woman, were killed inside the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs in Texas.
But local religious institutions say they don't see much to fear in this area. And local law enforcement officials say they always are looking for ways to make residents even safer.
Oneida County Undersheriff Robert Swenszkowski, for example, said Monday that active shooter training currently is being conducted for county employees. And Utica police Lt. Bryan Coromato said similar training is conducted in Utica on an ongoing basis.
Swenszkowski urges the public to be vigilant.
"If you see something, say something," he said. If it turns out to be nothing, "hurt feelings can be mended."
While local congregations say they feel safe in their places of worship, many have taken basic security precautions anyway.
Imam Amsal Memic, for example, said the Bosnian Islamic Mosque in Utica has security cameras for added protection.
And a spokeswoman for Utica's Grace Episcopal Church said that church has put in a security system among other features.
Acting Madison County Sheriff John Ball said in a statement about public response training last month, that it's important for the community to be "proactive" in preparing for potential incidents at locations such as "shopping malls, theaters, hospitals, and campuses, to name a few."
" ... We have to realize that our world is changing rapidly, and things we never thought of as being normal are, unfortunately, going to be normal now," Ball said in the statement. "I am deeply concerned with each and every incident taking place in our nation — mass shootings, civil unrest, chaos erupting at demonstrations.”
Swenszkowski added that the perpetrators of mass shootings often look for soft targets, which is why having a plan is important.
"You have to survive," he said, "whether it's a church or whether it's somewhere else."
Contact reporter Jolene Cleaver at 315-792-4956 or follow her on Twitter (@OD_Cleaver).