Category Archive: School security

Updated: Winter season security threats

Update: December 11, 2017.

Explosion-Port Authority Bus Terminal Passageway to Times Square 
At approximately, 7:20AM today  police responded to a reported explosion under the Port Authority Bus Terminal Station in New York City.

  • According to the NYPD, one suspect, Akayed Ullah, who wore an “improvised low-tech explosive device attached to his body,” is in custody following an explosion.
  • The suspect is one of four people who have been injured. All of the injuries are believed to be non-life threatening at this time.
  • The Port Authority at 42nd Street and 8th Avenue has been evacuated as a precautionary measure and subways did not stop at Times Square. Regular subway service resumed, with residual delays, at 11:03AM.

The police and FBI will continue their investigation. A transcript of the media availability at the scene can be found here.

According to our sources, there are no specific, credible intelligence regarding threats to the Homeland resulting from the announcement that the United States recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Homegrown violent extremists (HVEs) have long cited US foreign policy as being among their primary grievances, and their access to readily available weapons makes it increasingly easy for them to conduct an attack with little or no warning.

We reiterate our recommendations below.


Analyses of recent events highlight potential tactics: Ramming, Edged weapons, Improvised explosive devices, small arms or a combination thereof. Out of an abundance of caution we recommend that Jewish organizations should review their security posture and implement a policy of heightened vigilance. Consider giving special attention to security awareness, access control, mail and package screening, active shooter plans and general security protocols.

Recommendations

  • Awareness
    • Brief your staff on basic suspicious behavior (Indicators of Terrorist Activity from the NYPD and Security Awareness by Paul DeMatties) and make them aware that they are responsible for immediately reporting suspicious activity or persons.
    • Create a “culture of security” in your organization. Security is everybody’s business. Everyone should know, “If you see something, say something.”
    • Check in with your local law enforcement officials. Let them know if you have any upcoming programs.
  • Access control
    • Review your access control and security policies and procedures should be reviewed and strictly followed.
    • Utilize additional security during high-volume arrival or departure times.
    • Brief your security staff concerning your enhanced expectations, and have supervisors make additional visits to your location to ensure compliance.
  • Mail and package screening
    • Review your mailroom security and handling procedures with staff. See the comprehensive “Best Practices for Mail Screening and Handling” guide from DHS is available here. Check out Safe Mail Handling from DHS and find the USPS page on mail security, including suspicious mail and packages, here.
    • Advise your mailroom personnel not to handle letters or packages that look suspicious (discoloration, stains, or emits an odor).Personnel should immediately leave the area and dial 911. Personnel should make sure that no one re-enters the area until the NYPD/FDNY Hazmat Unit declares it safe.Consider the following:
      1. Larger organizations should continue to screen and x-ray their mail. The USPS best practices for mail center security contains an excellent chapter, “Protect Your Business from Package Bombs and Bomb Threats”.
      2. All organizations, large and small, need to examine all mail and packages, whether delivered via the post office, UPS, FedEx, other carrier or hand delivered.
      3. Whether or not your organization has a mail room, designate and train specific people to screen your organization’s mail. Make sure that they know what your screening protocols are and know what to do if they find anything suspicious.
      4. Screen your mail in a separate room. That way if you find anything suspicious, you can easily isolate it.
      5. If you believe that an envelope or package contains a hazardous substance (e.g., an unknown white powder) instruct your screener to avoid inhaling the particulates, wash his/her hands with soap and room temperature water and isolate him/her in an adjoining, designated area away from the substance and await instructions from the first responders (This will take some planning. You don’t want anyone walking past the other employees and possibly contaminating them).
      6. If you deem an item to be suspicious: 
        • Do not open it.
        • Do not shake it.
        • Do not examine or empty the contents.
        • Leave the room.
        • Close the door.
        • Alert others in the area.
        • Call 911.
        • Shut down your HVAC (heating, ventilation and cooling) systems, if possible.
        • Consider whether you want to vacate your premises.

      If you have a specific question about a package mailed to you, you can contact:

      USPS POSTAL INSPECTION SERVICE
      PO BOX 555
      NEW YORK NY 10116-0555
      Phone : 877-876-2455
  • Active shooters. Print out and distribute the NYPD flyer here to your constituencies and find more resources at the JCRC-NY active shooter resources page.
  • General
    • Conduct interior and exterior security inspections (by security, maintenance staff, trained volunteers, executive staff, etc.) several times a day.
    • Check all security equipment for fitness.
    • Review available video system recordings (day and night) daily to detect suspicious activity.

TRANSCRIPT: MEDIA AVAILABILITY HELD AFTER EXPLOSION AT PORT AUTHORITY BUS TERMINAL

Police Commissioner James P. O’Neill: Alright, good morning. Everyone’s got sound? Everybody’s good? Alright, good morning. At 7:20 am, approximately, 7:20 am this morning, we had terror related incident in the subway, in the passageway between 42nd and Eight, and 42nd and Seventh. The Governor is going to speak. The Mayor is going to speak. I’m going to give you some more details. Dan Nigro is going to talk about some of the minor injuries and then Joe Lhota is going to talk about subway service. Governor?

Governor Andrew Cuomo: Thank you, good morning to everyone. The first news this morning was obviously very frightening and disturbing. When you hear about a bomb in the subway station, which is in many ways one of our worst nightmares, the reality turns out better than the initial expectation and fear.

You had a number of law enforcement agencies that did a fantastic job. The NYPD, the PAPD, the Port Authority Police, the MTA Police, they were all on it. You see behind us representatives of all the agencies coordinated. The Assistant Director of the FBI, Bill Sweeney, is here. So everyone worked together.

There was an explosion. The Police Commissioner will go over the details. It was a minor – it was an effectively low tech device. There were several injuries, we hope minor, and it was handled extraordinarily well. There was a disruption in train service and bus service while a sweep was being done, that’s all being restored now, as you will hear from Joh Lhota. The subway station – subway service, except at 42nd Street is being restored. The Port Authority Bus Terminal is re-opened, so buses will be running once again.

This is New York. The reality is that we are a target by many who would like to make a statement against democracy, against freedom. We are the Statue of Liberty in our harbor. And that makes us an international target, we understand that. With the internet now, anyone can go on the internet, and download garbage and vileness on how to put together an amateur level explosive device, and that is a reality that we live with. The counter-reality is that this is New York, and we all pitch together, and we are a savvy people, and we keep our eyes open. And that’s what see something, say something is all about. And we have the best law enforcement on the globe. And we are all working together extraordinarily well.

I want to thank the Mayor and the Mayor’s Office for doing a great job this morning and we will go forward, and we will go forward together. All the service will resume. Let’s go back to work. We are not going to allow them to disrupt us. That’s exactly what they want and that is exactly what they’re not going to get. Thank you.

Mayor Bill de Blasio: Thank you very much Governor. Let’s be clear, as New Yorkers, our lives revolve around the subways. When we hear of an attack on the subway, it’s incredibly unsettling. And let’s be also clear, this was attempted terrorist attack. Thank God the perpetrator did not achieve his ultimate goals. Thank God our first responders were there so quickly to address the situation, to make sure people were safe. Thank God the only injuries, that we know at this point, were minor.

But I agree 100 percent with the Governor’s point. The choice of New York is always for a reason. Because we’re beacons to the world and we actually show that society of many faiths and many backgrounds can work, and we showed that democracy can work. And our enemies want to undermine that, the terrorist want to undermine that, so they yearn to attack New York City. But New York City is blessed with the finest law enforcement, and what our first responders did today was another example the ability to assess a situation quickly, contain it, and make sure people are safe.

Let me just say, it’s very important for my fellow New Yorkers to know. There are no additional known instance at this time, there are no additional known activities. We will wait for a fuller investigation, of course, by the NYPD, the MTA police, the Port Authority police, and the FBI, but at this point in time, all we know of is one individual, who thank God was unsuccessful in his aims. There are also no credible and specific threats against New York City at this time. But we will give you more information, of course, as the investigation unfolds.

The first responders responded brilliantly. Now the mission of the NYPD is to secure all major transit hubs and major sites in this city. So you will see expanded NYPD presence today all over the city. New Yorkers have come to understand when you see our specialized forces, when you see those long guns, and those highly trained officers, that’s something that should be reassuring to you. That means that the NYPD is on full alert and out in force and that means you are safe.

Finally I want to say, the Governor invoked that phrase, we can’t say it enough times, when you see something, say something. This is the difference maker. We’ve seen it time and again. When an everyday New Yorker sees something that doesn’t make sense, hears something, sees a package, gets a feeling that something’s wrong. Don’t hold it yourself, tell a police officer. They are the ones who can take the information and act on it. It is so important to speak up because you could be saving many lives by doing so.

I’ll finish by saying this. This is most resilient place on Earth, we’ve proven it time and time again. We’ve proved it just over a month ago. We proved it on 9/11. We are going to prove it again today. The terrorists will not win, we are going keep being New Yorkers. Let’s get back to work. Thank you.

Commissioner O’Neill: Alright these are the preliminary facts. So – just – it just happened a couple hours ago, so you have to understand these are preliminary facts. At approximately 7:20 am, at a below ground walkway, which connects the IND line at 4-2 and Eight Avenue with the IRT line at 4-2 and seven, and that’s the shuttle at Time Square and the 1,2,3 train.

Police were called to a reported explosion. Responding units found an injured 27-year-old male. We’ve identified him as Akayed Ullah, A-K-A-Y-E-D-U-L-L-A-H. He had burns and wounds to his body. Preliminary investigation at the scene indicates this male was wearing an improvised, low-tech explosive device attached to his body. He intentionally detonated that device. Looks like that there were three other people in the immediate area also sustain minor injuries, but Dan Nigro is going to talk about that. The subject was placed in custody and transported to Bellevue Hospital.

Immediate police response to the scene included members of the Transit Bureau, Emergency Service Decision, Bomb Squad, Counter-Terrorism, MTA Police, State Troopers, and the FBI’s Joint Terrorist Taskforce.  In addition, the NYPD Strategic Response Group and Critical Response Command, were assigned to other key transportation hubs and other locations throughout the city as a precautionary measure.

This incident was captured on transit system video. A further review and interviewing witnesses is under way, a thorough background investigation Akayed Ullah is being conducted by the Joint Terrorist Taskforce. We are asking anyone who may have any information about this individual or incident to call the terror headline, and that’s, 8-8-8-NYC-SAFE.

Just as the Governor said, and as the Mayor said, we are New Yorkers, we don’t live in fear. If you see something doesn’t look right ,you have an obligation to come forward, call 9-1-1, flag down a cop, and give us a chance to investigate it. Dan Nigro is going to talk about the injuries now. Dan?

Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro: Thank you Jim. As the Police Commissioner mentioned the perpetrator detonated the device, it caused burns to the hands and the abdomen, also lacerations. Our EMS personnel removed the perpetrator to Bellevue Hospital where they’re being treated now. Three other people that were in proximity of the explosion removed themselves. Two of them took themselves to Mt. Saini West, one to Mt. Saini Queens. All with minor injuries that are consistent with being in the area of the explosion. That is ringing in the ears and headaches. So we have three minor injuries to people that were in that corridor and serious injuries to the perpetrator. That’s it at this time.

MTA Chairman Joe Lhota: Thank you. As the Commissioners have both said, and the Mayor and the Governor have both said, earlier this morning we received an alert of the explosion that happened in the tunnel and immediately the MTA and the transit authority shut down the lines on the Eight Avenue line, the A, the C, the E. Many of them were rerouted. I will tell you right now, they are all back. The only disruption we have right now is that on both the Seventh Avenue line, as well as the Eighth Avenue line, we’re bypassing the Times Square-42nd Street corridor. And also the shuttle between Grand Central and Times Square is currently shut down. We expect it to be back up and normal by – by this evening’s rush hour.

I do want to also state that on November 6th, just a month or so ago, we had a tabletop exercise with the NYPD to coordinate our efforts in the event that something like this ever happened. And the result of that was today in less than two hours we are back totally up to speed and getting our passengers around. I want to especially thank, not only the NYPD, but also our passengers and our customers for their patience. Thank you.

Commissioner O’Neill: Alright we’re going to take some questions.

Question: [Inaudible] did the suspect utter anything before he [inaudible]

Commissioner O’Neill: The question is is did the subject utter anything before he detonated the device.

Part of the investigation.

Question: Where was the device located?

Question: [Inaudible] potential target for years [inaudible] typically have police run [inaudible] a lot of these corridors connecting lines where you don’t see [inaudible] at this point how [inaudible] potential security weakness something that might be addressed?

Commissioner O’Neill: Alright the question is that transit seems to be an apparent target, are there any weak  – any weaknesses downstairs. Listen we have almost 3,000 transit cops that work in the subway system every day, we have the strategic response group, we have the critical response command. All parts of this system are patrolled.

Question: Can you describe, is it a belt, a backpack or a vest, a little more about the device. And in the video what does he look like he’s doing? Does he look like he’s waiting for a big crowd to gather? What is he doing?

Commissioner O’Neill: Alright the question was what does the device look like, and what was the subject doing before he detonated. John Miller can talk about that.

John Miller, Deputy Commissioner of Intelligence and Counterterrorism: Without getting into too many specifics the device is based on a pipe bomb. It was affixed to his person with a combination of Velcro and zip ties. The bomb squad is in the process now, along with the FBI special agent bomb technicians, of processing that crime scene with others. They’re going to gather up those pieces and we’ll have a better idea of what the device was put together with and what was inside it.

Question: [Inaudible]

Commissioner O’Neill: Hold up. Hold up.

Question: Any history on the perp?

Commissioner O’Neill: Yeah we’re not going to go into that right now.

Question: [Inaudible]

Commissioner O’Neill: Hold on, right here. Juliette? Hold on, one at a time. Hold on. Juliette?

Question: Did he detonate it himself and was this done purposely as –

Commissioner O’Neill: That’s – Juliette – the question is did he detonate it himself. In the video you see him walking down the corridor, that’s part of the investigation. We don’t know that to be a fact just yet. Right behind Juliette?

Question: [Inaudible] nationality [inaudible]

Commissioner O’Neill: We’re working on that right now.

Question: Commissioner?

Commissioner O’Neill: Yeah right here.

Question: Is there a reason why we’re seeing the incident from a few weeks ago, this incident more now and we’ve gone years, and years, and years in New York since 9/11 with nothing. And now all of a sudden it seems like we are seeing more incidents. Is there a reason why?

Commissioner O’Neill: There have been incidents starting with 9/11 but I’ll let John talk about that a little bit more.

Deputy Commissioner John Miller: So as you all know, since the World Trade Center bombing of 1993, and well before that New York City, as the media capital of the world, has been a target of terrorist attacks in the past. There was the World Trade Center bombing of 1993, the 9/11 attacks, and in the course of post-9/11 world, as you’re aware, there’s also been approximately 26 plots that we can talk about that have been prevented through intelligence investigation and interdiction.

As you know there was the Times Square bombing which failed to detonate, there was the Chelsea bombing from September 17th of 16 and then there’s this incident. So clearly do to an immense effort that is put into this by the FBI, the NYPD, our intelligence and counter-terrorism people, and everybody else. It’s an all hands effort. We have prevented a significant number of plots. A significant number of attacks. But this is a fact of life, whether you’re in New York or London or Paris. The question is can it happen here, and the answer is it can happen anywhere.

Question: Did he claim any connection to ISIS?

Question: [Inaudible]

Commissioner O’Neill: Alright hold on, hold on. Right here in the front row.

Question: Did he claim any connection to ISIS [inaudible]

Commissioner O’Neill: He did make statements but – the question is did he claim connection to ISIS. He did make statements but we’re not going to talk about that right now.

Question: Is he from Brooklyn?

Commissioner O’Neill: Right behind you – hold on. Right behind you.

Question: Where exactly did the device go off in the passage way?

Commissioner O’Neill: It’s at 4- 2 and eight. He’s walking eastbound to 4-2 and seven. It’s – so it’s from this corner to Times Square underneath. If you’ve taken the subway you know what the passageway I’m talking about.

Question: Commissioner –

Commissioner O’Neill: Alright, hold on. In the back?

Question: [Inaudible] subway system of this size runs 24 hours, seven days a week [inaudible] size and scope?

Commissioner O’Neill: Alright the question is the size of the subway system is massive, how can we have that – how can we have that system covered.  Listen, it’s going to take – there’s six million people that ride the train every day. It’s going to take everybody to have their eyes open, pay attention to what’s going on, if you don’t see – if you see something that makes you uncomfortable, make that phone call or talk to a cop. Give us a chance to investigate. In the back?

Question: [Inaudible]

Commissioner O’Neill: We don’t know – the question is was it intentional, this spot where he detonated the explosive device. We don’t know that yet. Right here, Miles?

Question: Commissioner, I understand you executed a search warrant in Brooklyn and have you – how far have you been able to track this suspect –

Commissioner O’Neill: Yeah we’re not going to – the question is that are we at different locations with the – what was the?

Question: Brooklyn.

Commissioner O’Neill: In Brooklyn. I’m not going to go into that right now. We are – this is part of what we do. We’re investigating his background now to see what addresses he has and we’ll fully investigate him and the locations where he lives.

Question: Did he act alone?

 Commissioner O’Neill: Alright, listen. We’re going to come back to you later on with some more – with some more information. Thank you very much.

###

Are you prepared? 5 steps to make your facility safer and more secure

Posted on August 30, 2017

(Click here to download a PDF of this webpage)

Organizational leaders should work to strike a balance: to offer a warm and welcoming facility, while at the same time ensuring that their members, students, staffs, clients and building are safe and secure. Leaders concerned with everybody’s safety and security should prepare to deal with emergencies, because “on the fly” reflexes might not be as effective as a pre-determined and rehearsed plan. While your “to-do” list at the beginning of the academic and program year is long, consider these tips to help you prepare for emergencies and ensure you can protect your constituencies.

1.  Control access to your facility

No unauthorized person should be allowed to enter your facility. Every person entering your facility should be screened by security (or other) staff.

  • Limit entrances and exits. Limit access to your facility to monitored entrances.
  • Don’t slow down regular users. Create a system to identify regulars (e.g., staff, members).
  • Screen irregular visitors. g., people with appointments, contractors, etc. See more at Sample Building Access Policies & Procedures.
  • Divide your building into sectors. Should people authorized to use one part of the building be able to wander into another? If you have an access control system, take advantage of its capabilities to allow specific access. Alternatively, use color-coded badges, wristbands or ID cards as a low-tech solution.

2. Plan your emergency response

Stuff happens. Emergencies are not events that you can handle on the fly. Consider having plans, procedures and designated teams empowered to make decisions during emergencies, and trained and prepared to respond to events.

  • Develop and train an emergency response team. Designate someone to be in charge during an emergency and someone else as backup. Build a support team. Have the team work together on your response plans.
  • Build a relationship with your local police.Work with your local police throughout the year and give them the opportunity to get to know your programs, your rhythms, your people and your building. Ask them for suggestions as to how to make your people safer.
  • Know what to do if you receive a threat. Get some ideas about preparing for phone, email or social media threats and evacuations and sheltering at: http://www.jcrcny.org/2017/02/to-evacuate-or-not-to-evacuate-that-is-the-question/.
  • Have an “active shooter” Do the people in your facility know what to do if a person with a gun or sharp-edged weapon shows up? Find more information at: www.jcrcny.org/activeshooter.
  • Be ready to tell people what’s happening. Don’t let your stakeholders learn about an emergency at your facility from the media. Be prepared to communicate. Have some pre-written messages: be first; be right; be credible. Consider options including hardware and web-based emergency notification systems that will simultaneously email, text and phone pre-prepared lists, dedicated social media groups or free apps such as WhatsApp or GroupMe that will send texts (including a link to your website with more info and updates). Now is the time to collect the cell numbers of your stakeholders.
  • Involve your board in the security and preparedness process.

3. Develop a routine

Security, done well, must be done daily and involve everybody.

  • Create a culture of security. Everyone should feel responsible to report suspicious activity. “If you see something, say something” should be part of your culture of security.
  • Be aware of hostile surveillance. If you see something, say something. If it is not an emergency, call the NYPD at (888) NYC-SAFE, outside NYC (866) SAFE-NYS. For more information download Indicators of Terrorist Activity from the NYPD, Guide to Detecting Surveillance of Jewish Institutions from the ADL at adl.org/security and Security Awarenessby Paul DeMatties at Global Security Risk Management,  LLC.
  • Schedule regular walkarounds. Designate an employee to complete a “walkaround” of your building and your perimeter on a daily basis, if not more often. They should be looking for suspicious objects, items blocking evacuation routes and anything else that “Just Doesn’t Look Right.”
  • Make sure you’re getting the right information. Sign up for alerts to learn when the local and/or global security threats conditions change. Sources: JCRC-NY Security Alerts at jcrcny.org/security, https://www.nypdshield.org/public/signup.aspx, emergency alerts from Notify NYC or your local emergency management office and have a weather app on your smartphone to warn you about severe weather.
  • Work with your security provider and your staff to write, “post orders”. Your guards should not merely decorate your entrance. They should know what you expect them to do daily and in emergencies.

4. Don’t forget to train

Major leaguers take batting practice before every game. True, they started batting in the Little Leagues, but drills help people to know, instinctively, what to do. Emergencies that turn to chaos become crises. People know what to do during a fire drill, because they have participated in fire drills since grade school.

Use tabletop exercises involving a wide swath of stakeholders to help you to determine policies and procedures. Once you have determined your plans and procedures, schedule evacuation and lockdown drills. And remember … once is not enough.

5. Explore your security hardware options

Your security hardware should support your security procedures. There are federal and New York State grants available for many organizations (see: www.jcrcny.org/securitygrants for more details). Consider obtaining the funding for:

  • Your main and secondary doors should lock securely and be able to withstand an attack by a determined intruder.
  • Do your windows lock securely? Reduce the risk of break-ins, vandalism and even mitigate the extent of injuries from bomb blasts by properly installing security/blast-mitigation film on your current windows or replacing them with windows with those properties built-in.
  • Access control systems. The electronic possibilities are endless: access cards, biometrics, alarms and more. Get professional advice (see JCRC-NY’s guidance on Security vendors), figure out a hardware plan that is expandable and adaptable.
  • Video monitoring. Deploy CCTV systems in various ways. First, as part of a video intercom system to identify people seeking to enter your facility. Second, to monitor secondary entrances (you can add alarms that warn you that a door was opened, alerting someone to check the monitor), and finally, to help to detect hostile surveillance.
 David Pollock and Paul DeMatteis
security@jcrcny.org | August 30, 2017

To evacuate or not to evacuate? That is the question.

With over 150 hoax bomb threats reported, you should have already have a plan. However, the ongoing threats should serve as a reminder to review our ongoing guidance, make use of the resources and implement the recommendations, as appropriate.

Should we be worried? At this time the experts conclude that the series of
incidents referencing threats against schools, Jewish facilities and businesses likely do not represent a credible terrorist threat for two reasons:

  1. terrorists’ rarely provide operational insight into their planning, and
  2. the fact that nearly all hoaxes in the United States are conducted by criminal actors or those instigating a nuisance prank.

From “Bomb Threat Guidance” from US DHS and the FBI. Click on the image to download the brochure.

What are my options? Many security experts question the wisdom of the policy of evacuation. After all, a terrorist could trigger an evacuation of a facility with a simple phone call and then attack the evacuees in multiple ways. On the other hand, someone could place 100 hoax bomb threat calls, but actually plant a bomb on the 101st. (In rebuttal, why make a warning phone call when simply planting the bomb works).

The bottom line is that there is no perfect solution, so all institutions should think about their options and consult with local law enforcement in the absence of the pressure of an actual emergency.

Think about options

Your response should be tailored to the nature of the threat. Don’t expect people to gather information, to analyze the situation and to identify the best option in the wake of a threat. Understand the risk (use the chart to the left) and define actions that can be taken under various circumstances.

Some other ideas:

  • Set up a meeting with your local police to review and discuss your options.
  • There is no perfect solution. This is an issue that should be raised at a security committee or board meeting. Remember, your reputation is at stake and your decision may create liability issues.
  • Identify possible options leading to a sheltered evacuation, i.e., one that minimizes the dangers of an attack on evacuees:
  • Is your parking lot a relatively safe area? Could you evacuate there and stand an appropriate distance from your facility? Is there a sheltered path to an adjoining building? Can the local police establish a perimeter to protect the evacuees?
  • Develop appropriate protective measures based on your facility’s characteristics. For example, some facility managers have identified areas (e.g., a pool or gym) that are not cluttered and therefore, easy to check for bombs. If the architecture of the building is engineered so that the building would not likely collapse on those inside, one option is to evacuate people to these safe (or more accurately, safer) places (HT to Steve Levy of ISA).
  • Communicate, early and often. If you decide not to evacuate, some stakeholders will question your judgement and try to second-guess you. A well-planned sheltered evacuation option is easy to explain and to show that your highest priority is the safety of your stakeholders. Whatever you choose, have pre-written messages ready to go should you become a target.

No one can give you a perfect answer. Identify your options, consult with the best people possible and keep your people safe.

Hoax threats can be scary, too.

Should we be worried? At this time the experts conclude that the series of incidents referencing threats against schools, Jewish facilities and businesses likely do not represent a credible terrorist threat for two reasons:

  1. terrorists’ rarely provide operational insight into their planning, and
  2. the fact that nearly all hoaxes in the United States are conducted by criminal actors or those instigating a nuisance prank.

Due to the common occurrence of bomb threats across the country over the last few years, the experts judge malicious terrorism hoaxes such as bogus emails and phoned-in threats, including robo-calls, will almost certainly continue, diverting resources as they create disturbances and send false alarms. However, don’t become blasé. Someone might take advantage of the hoaxes to accomplish a real attack.


What should we be doing? Consider these incidents to be a teaching moment. How would your organization handle such threats.

  1. Know what you should do. Have a bomb threat plan before an incident happens.  For starters, check out DHS’ Bomb Threat Guidance and Introduction to Bomb Threat Management. Add JCRC-NY’s post, Manhattan bomb threat: lessons learned to your reading list. Now is a good time to review, or to think through your own plans. Our own Emergency Planning: Disaster and Crisis Response Systems for Jewish Organizations has a longer chapter discussing the issue.
  2. Train your phone answerers. Everyone answering the phone (including those who might answer) should be taught how to handle a phone threat with this checklist. Have copies of the bomb threat checklist posted nearby.
  3. You have to communicate.
    • First things first. Call 911. Bring in the cavalry…ASAP. Whether you think the incident is real or a hoax, contact the experts and defer to them. Have a system (with primary and backup callers) that ensures that someone calls 911 immediately. Remember, don’t use a cell phone or walkie-talkie in the area of a suspicious package … you might set it off. Get to your landline.
    • Get the word out. Even if your people know what to do (i.e., you’ve conducted bomb scare drills) you have to let them know that they have to do it. Does your building have a public address system? Do you have cell phone numbers for all of your staff so that you can text them with updates? Can you modify your fire alarm system so that it sounds a distinctive signal for a bomb scare?
    • Let your constituencies know what’s happening. Bomb scares create angst and the possibility of physical danger, but there is the potential for risk to your reputation. No one wants a parent to learn about an incident from the media. Have pre-written messages ready for distribution directly to your constituencies (e.g., by text) stressing the steps you’ve taken and that everyone is safe. Have a point of assembly where worried parents can go for additional information from your best staffers. Work with the police to direct people to the appropriate areas. Do not post specifics on social media.  Click here for resources on crisis communication.
  4. Decisions, decisions. Have someone in charge (and a backup). OK, you receive a threat, now what? Certainly, dial 911, but should you evacuate or not (might someone use a bomb threat in order to trigger an evacuation setting up an active shooter or vehicle ramming?)? In reality there is no perfect answer to this question. Someone has to give the order and there will be no time to waste.
  5. Know where to go. If you decide to evacuate out of an abundance of caution you probably don’t want to stand in the street, especially if the weather is bad. Do you have an agreement with a neighboring institution that allows you to bring people into their facility. By doing so you can keep your people warm and dry and out of harms way.
  6. Keep unused parts of your building locked. It’s good practice to have your staff check your facilities daily, looking for something that “Just Doesn’t Look Right”. As they move through the rooms they should lock the doors. Closets and other storage areas should be kept locked. If you develop such procedures and do receive a bomb threat, the bomb sweep of your building can be accomplished faster.
  7. Consult your leadership about security plans. There will always be Monday morning quarterbacks, but a review of your plans at the Board level should empower those making difficult decisions under duress. As they say, “once is not enough.” Revisit security planning and procedures on a regular basis.

How can we know if the threat is real? The intelligence firm, Stratfor, recently published an article: How to distinguish a bomb threat from a bomb warning. The experts suggest some other possible indicators of a hoax:

  • Most genuine bombers wouldn’t specify the exact timing and target of an attack (since providing that information would jeopardize the success of an event);
  • Most genuine bombers wouldn’t use threats with complex scenarios involving chemical weapons or other advanced capabilities, or cite geographically dispersed targets; and
  • Most genuine bombers wouldn’t use threats involving large numbers of operatives.

Remember, there are no guarantees in security. You will have to weigh the options and make the best decisions possible. If you’ve thought about the options and have made decisions ahead of time, the odds of making the right decision increase dramatically.

Awareness 101: When it “Just doesn’t look right”

Regularly check around your facility for anything that "Just doesn't look right"

Regularly check around your facility for anything that “Just doesn’t look right”. Shown is a car parked in a “No Parking” zone with strange wires.

Experts note that terrorist attacks don’t appear out of thin air. In virtually every situation (and that includes active shooter events) an attacker practices “pre-operational surveillance.” More mundanely, they “case the joint” or just show up to observe, orient themselves to the situation and to decide how they will act during their attack. When suspect behavior is reported (1-888-NYC-SAFE) it can be investigated and an attack can be interrupted.

Determining that it “Just doesn’t look right”

The NYPD Intelligence Bureau just released some excellent guidance. Its primary focus is to help detect suspicious signs along special event routes (e.g., parades) or areas designated for large-scale public gatherings (e.g., demonstrations, celebrations, street fairs, etc.), but can apply to houses of worship, schools, community centers and other gathering points. The following examples of activity, though not fully inclusive, may be of possible concern to law enforcement (Click here for a PDF of the NYPD Indicators of Terrorist Activity guidance):

  • The appearance of a suspicious vehicle (including bicycles with a storage basket; motorcycles; utility storage boxes, etc.) parked near the area designated for the event to take place. Items left for a protracted period of time and disregarded.
  • Actions by an individual that suggest the pre-event videotaping or still photography of the route or location (and surrounding area) for no apparent reason (i.e., no aesthetic value). Sketching of the area e.g., cross streets, access streets into and out of the area.
  • Any request to videotape from a roof or a vacant unit/apartment overlooking the event venue.
  • The sudden appearance of a new street vendor in an area adjacent to the event route, the venue’s access doors, or gathering location.
  • Unclaimed or suspicious packages/objects found along the special event route/location.
  • Individuals sitting or standing at a bus stop and not boarding a bus; Individuals sitting at a particular location (e.g., park bench) at the same time each day for numerous days.
  • The very. recent placement of a garbage can, postal mailbox, newspaper kiosk or other stationary object along the special event route/location.
  • Recent attempts by unknown individuals to gain access to your building’s roof overlooking the parade route/special event location/venue.
  • Inquiries about short-term rental of an apartment or space above your store/business – or in your residential complex — that also happens to offer a view of a parade route or special event location. (Terrorist operatives will often cohabitate to facilitate operational planning.Additionally, they may attempt to position themselves in an area that will ease their surveillance of potential targets.)
  • Large plastic drums being stored inside a building (commercial or residential space).
  • Reports of small fires or smoke conditions being reported from a particular store or apartment.
  • Suspicious inquiries by unknown individuals regarding:
    • The security measures anticipated for the event (e.g., extensive questioning as to
      the searching of backpacks, stopping of vehicles, etc.)
    • The seating of public officials, dignitaries, or other VIPs at an event.