Addressing Heightened Threats

Addressing Heightened Threats

With preparedness and vigilance, American Jewish community works on additional security

Over the last several years, the United States has averaged one active shooter incident every two weeks. On the morning of Oct. 27, one such incident shattered the calm of a quiet Saturday morning in Pittsburgh, Pa. On that morning, an individual armed with an assault rifle entered a Jewish house of worship, the Tree of Life Congregation, and opened fire on congregants gathered for Saturday morning prayer—killing 11 and wounding seven, including four responding police officers.

The attack on a Jewish institution comes amidst unprecedented year-over-year increases in anti-Semitic incidents and hate crimes directed against the Jewish community in North America. The offender in the Pittsburgh incident had made numerous anti-Semitic postings on social media prior to his attack.

Just two weeks after the events of Pittsburgh, federal law enforcement announced the arrest in Toledo, Ohio, of an individual associated with the so-called Islamic State who was allegedly planning an attack on a synagogue in the area. He planned to use assault rifles and specifically referenced being inspired by the attack in Pittsburgh. More recently, a person in Washington state, who espoused anti-Semitic views, was arrested after making similar threats to carry out a mass attack targeting the Jewish community.

While some view the threats as new, the reality is that the Jewish community has been facing these issues and proactively working to address them for years. In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, and acknowledging a growing threat against the community, the leadership of the American Jewish community recognized the need for a group of professionals with backgrounds in homeland security, law enforcement, intelligence, the military and national security to focus exclusively on safety and security matters.

Since 2003, the Secure Community Network (SCN) has met that need as the official homeland security and safety initiative of the organized Jewish community in North America.

Serving 147 Jewish Federations, 50 partner organizations and over 300 independent communities, SCN provides timely, credible threat and incident information to both law enforcement and community partners, serves as the community’s formal liaison with federal law enforcement and coordinates closely with state and local law enforcement partners. SCN works with communities and partners across North America to develop and implement strategic frameworks that enhance the safety and security of the Jewish people, developing best practice policies and procedures, undertaking threat and vulnerability assessments, coordinating training and education, offering consultation on safety and security matters and providing crisis management support during critical incidents.

Recognized by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) as a best practice example of how a faith-based community can work to address safety and security, SCN’s efforts over the past 15 years have been devoted to ensuring that Jewish organizations, communities, life and culture can not only exist, but flourish. At the same time, SCN has worked to support and assist other faith-based organizations and communities that have faced similar threats. If our experience can be used in partnership with other communities of faith to enhance their safety, we are duty-bound to work together.

One area where we have made a demonstrable difference is with training on active threat events, and Pittsburgh is an example of the life-saving impact that can result.

For years, the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh has taken proactive steps to enhance its security posture. In 2017, in consultation with SCN, the Pittsburgh Federation hired a Community Security Director to implement and oversee standardized, best practice safety and security measures for the community, its institutions and its members. One key component of that strategy was the delivery of active threat training.

Since January 2017, Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh security director Brad Orsini, a retired FBI special agent specializing in crisis management, trained more than 5,600 people on various response efforts, including active threat/active shooter response, hate crimes reporting and “Stop the Bleed” techniques to be used in the event of an emergency.

The value of our approach to security is not theoretical.

An assessment was undertaken at the Tree of Life Congregation to discuss security policies and procedures.

In the months prior to the attack, Orsini provided active threat training at the Tree of Life Congregation. Survivors of the deadliest attack on the American Jewish community in the history of the United States have noted how that training helped save lives and minimize injury.

Orsini and the Tree of Life Congregation rabbi also discussed the need for someone to be able to call 911 during Shabbat—a time when observant Jews typically do not use the telephone, or even carry a cell phone—in case of an emergency. The rabbi ultimately agreed, and it was his call that first alerted law enforcement to the attack.

The Jewish community’s standardized approach to security, undertaken in partnership between SCN and local organizations, and inclusive of assessments, information sharing, capability enhancement and training, among other elements, pays dividends. It can save lives. It has saved lives.

SCN is committed to taking lessons learned from experience to enhance the safety and security of our community. Recognizing the value of tailored content, SCN plans to unveil best practice active threat training developed with case studies and examples specifically situated for the Jewish community.

Moreover, we are working through networks and associations to deliver active threat training to keep our most vulnerable populations and our most sacred spaces safe—from houses of worship to schools and community centers.

While threats to the Jewish community are persistent and dynamic, succumbing to fear has never been an option. Instead, SCN is committed to fostering a sense of empowerment within communities. By providing institutions and individuals with the training and tools necessary to address threats they may face, we are enabling them to respond with confidence and exhibit resilience.

With this comprehensive and strategic approach, SCN continues to work towards the same mission with which it was founded: to enhance the safety and security of the Jewish community in North America. We have made tremendous progress, but know there is more to do.

Jewish tradition instructs that “we do not rely on miracles.” Through our efforts and those of our partners, we will maintain and strengthen our faith with the resolve that the responsibility for the safety and security of our community today—and for future generations rests firmly in our own hands.

This article originally appeared in the March 2019 issue of Security Today.

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