Category Archive: Synagogue Security

New concerns from ISIS-inspired lone wolves

According to some analysts, the death of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has the potential for violent reactions by United States-based homegrown violent extremists (HVEs). While there is no specific threat to the Jewish community or to the New York area, JCRC-NY recommends that Jewish institutions maintain heightened vigilance.

In a recent op-ed in the NY Daily News (Why ISIS remains far from finished: A warning from two leading counterterrorism officials), Ray Kelly and Mitch Silber observed, “The ISIS threat to the U.S. early on was mainly based on its ability, through cutting-edge use of social media, to radicalize and mobilize Americans to either want to join ISIS as a foreign fighter (with the latent threat to return to attack the U.S.) or to plot attacks at home on their own.”

This is a good time to review your facility’s security protocols to ensure that they reflect the current need for heightened vigilance. We suggest that you download JCCA’s Security Readiness:A Framework for Security at Jewish Community Centers (JCCs), YM and YWHAs, and Camps. The publication is a valuable tool for all kinds of organizations and the chapter on a “Security Escalation Plan” on pp. 42ff. features six indicators that should cause you to consider escalating security and the included checklist is a helpful template to build an effective response.

Keep safe.

DHS Active Shooter Training | Nov 13

DHS CISA Region-II Training & Exercise Coordinator, cordially invites you to participate in a one-day active shooter security workshop. Be advised Registration closes 11/13/2019 at 12:00 pm. Link is provided on the flyer and here    https://www.govevents.com/details/31696/dhs-active-shooter-preparedness-workshop--new-york-ny/

November 15th, 2019 (8:30am – 4:00pm)
Pace University, New York City Campus
One Pace Plaza (Student Center West)
New York, NY 10038

Preparing all of your constituencies for a potential active shooter incident is an integral component of an organization’s incident response planning. Because active shooter incidents are unpredictable and evolve quickly, preparing for and knowing what to do in an active shooter situation can be the difference between life and death. Every second counts.

A Unique Training Opportunity

Pace University and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, are hosting a one-day security workshop to enhance awareness of, and response to, an active shooter event:

  • Educating participants on the history of active shooter events.
  • Describing common behavior, conditions, and situations associated with active shooters.
  • Fostering communication between critical infrastructure owners and operators and local emergency response teams.  This course includes discussions of interoperability, communications protocols, and best practices for planning, preparedness, and response.

Who Should Participate?

This event is open to:

  • Organization and corporate and facility security professionals and leaders from the private and public sectors
  • Supervisory first responders
  • Human resource managers
  • Community response officials
  • Homeland security representatives

Registration

  • Registration for this event is free; please click here to register.
  • Registration closes 11/13/2019 at 12:00 pm (EDT).

Please see attached flyer and invitation for more details on this workshop.  We appreciate your engagement in this process; your participation will enhance and contribute significantly to building your organization’s incident response plans.  Should you have any questions or concerns, please let us know.

Very Respectfully,

Stephen Allyn

Region-II Training & Exercise Coordinator (RTEC)
Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA)
Northeast & Caribbean NY~NJ~PR~USVI
Cell: (917) 710-4764 Stephen.Allyn@hq.dhs.gov
Operation Desert Storm – Iraqi Freedom – Enduring Freedom

Security: High Holidays 5780

Thinking High Holiday Security & Preparedness

After a year that included the horrible events of Pittsburgh and Poway, JCRC-NY recommends that Jewish institutions increase their levels of vigilance. This is especially true during the High Holidays, when people know that Jews congregate. Synagogues should review this document, ADL’s Security Recommendations For the High Holidays or SCN’s High Holy Days Security Planning. For more information click to our contact form here and someone will get back to you.

Your services are usually associated with larger than normal crowds and could be an attractive target for terrorism and other crimes. The single, most important step that congregations should consider: screen all attendees before they enter your premises. Your screeners (who might be equipped with a “panic button” to be used if there’s an emergency) may assess those with valid, High Holiday tickets as “pre-screened” (see “Ticket sales” below) so that+ any others merit a higher level of scrutiny. Trained guards, staff, or volunteers should conduct screening. Consider bag checks.

Hm-m-m-m-m. Any special planning for severe weather?

Here are some additional suggestions:

  • Create a culture of security. Institutions should not merely subcontract security. Even buildings with well-trained security personnel should expect that staff and constituencies should be part of the security equation. Everyone should have heightened vigilance in times like these. For tips on security awareness, Indicators of Terrorist Activity from the NYPD and/or the ADL’s Guide to Detecting Surveillance at Jewish Institutions.
  • Connect with your local police. Someone (or more than one) should have ongoing personal relationships with key police personnel. They should know you, your building and your organizational activities.
    • Discuss your security procedures with them and ask them for suggestions for improvement. Inform them of the dates and times of your services, regular events and special events.
    • Special attention is given to a synagogue based on an assessment of the current threat balanced by the availability of resources. In some jurisdictions it is a longstanding practice to assign police personnel to synagogues during services. In others, patrol cars are directed to visit synagogues at regular intervals. Discuss your situation with local police officials as soon as possible so that they have time to make their assessments and to secure the resources that they need to protect you.
    • In some instances, the traffic conditions surrounding services warrant police attention.
  • Private security. Some police departments allow private parties to hire off-duty officers in uniform for events (in NYC, contact the Paid Detail Unit). Others use other off-duty officers (hired privately or through a security firm), retired officers or hire private security guards.
    • Security guards must be trained in security awareness, understand your environment, be in harmony with your organization’s culture and be customer-service-oriented. You must clearly detail what is expected of your security guards, including specific duties, inspection of your facilities and your access control policy. (See more at the JCCA Security Readiness Manual, pp. 50 ff.)
    • Check that your security firm is appropriately insured and ask for a Certificate of Insurance naming your synagogue as an additional named insured.
  • Revisit and review your security plans and procedures.
    • Access control. Did you hear the one about a pro-Israel organization visited by a middle-aged, well-dressed woman saying that she wanted to make a contribution? They opened the door for her and a dozen protesters rushed in. Nine of the invaders were arrested. Are you vulnerable to such antics? Take the time to review your access control procedures. For more information and guidance, see JCRC-NY’s Sample Building Access Policies & Procedures (PDF).
    • Active shooters. Have a plan and train your staff and key volunteers on its implementation. See JCRC’s dedicated active shooter webpage here.
    • Bomb threats. Review your bomb threat procedures and make sure that your staffers (especially those who answer the phones) know what is expected of them. For a range of resources from top agencies, including the FBI and the DHS guidance click here.
    • Train your staff and key volunteers. It might not be practical to have evacuation/active shooter drills for your entire congregation before the holidays, but do conduct drills for your staff and key volunteers (e.g., ushers, area captains) as soon as possible. Get their feedback on your plans and update the plans as necessary.
    • Suspicious packages. Is your staff aware that they should be on the lookout for suspicious packages? For USPS guidance click here.
  • Assess your cybersecurity. Over the past month the websites of several Jewish-affiliated organizations were hacked. Protect your organization. See Cybersecurity for Jewish organizations 101: an update and how to have inexpensive and effective backup and other plans at Resources to prepare your organization’s technology for a disaster.
  • Questions? Click here to send questions, comments and suggestions.

Click here for an expanded PDF version of the JCRC-NY High Holiday Planning Thinkplate 2019. 

New DHS resource guide and mail screening poster

Posted on June 04, 2019

New resource guide. Take a look at DHS’ new resource guide, Security of Soft Targets and Crowded Places. It’s essentially a one-stop table of contents for DHS’s free materials, including links for help on identifying suspicious activity, access control and screening, active assailants (they’re not just shooters anymore) and bomb threats. Follow the supplied links for an introduction to facility security that can serve as a good first step for houses of worship, schools and other soft targets. Resources include fact sheets, guidance, and online training and education courses.


Mail screening poster. Thanks to the world’s leading geopolitical intelligence platform, Stratfor, for its timely reminder about mail and package screening after an attempted bombing.

  • While many questions remain in the case of a parcel bomb sent to a Mexican senator, the largest is why the mail of such a high-level official was not screened.
  • While politicians and large corporations clearly must take significant measures to screen their mail, even ordinary people (and Jewish organizations) should open their mail cautiously.
  • Simple steps can help everyone from the largest entities to the average citizen.

Note that Cesar Sayoc, 57, admitted in court to having mailed 16 explosive devices to a variety of officials and to CNN’s offices in October 2018. He allegedly said he would “eradicate the Jews” if he had the power to, along with lesbians, black people and Hispanic people.

We urge you to download the tips found on the Stratfor graphic and share it with your staff and others.

Heightened vigilance during Passover

Posted on April 17, 2019

As we prepare to celebrate Passover we should remember that the upcoming religious holidays (not only Pesach, but Easter and Ramadan) may provide increased symbolic interest to homegrown violent extremists (HVEs) and domestic extremists—including some perpetrators of hate crimes inspired by or adhering to domestic extremist ideologies—aspiring to target faith-based communities here in the United States. While security experts are not aware of any  credible threats surrounding the upcoming religious holiday season, we suggest — out of an abundance of caution — that all synagogues maintain heightened vigilance during Passover. See our suggestions below.

Threat background

While there have been no recent attacks or plots in the United States specifically targeting a religious holiday celebration, there have been successful and disrupted plots targeting faith-based communities here. Most HVEs and domestic extremists attempting any near-term attacks likely would use simplistic tactics and relatively easily obtainable weapons such as firearms, knives, and vehicles—although some violent extremists have sought to use explosive devices.

Recent incidents targeting houses of worship

  • On 15 March 2019, an Australian national allegedly used firearms to attack the Al Noor and Linwood Mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, resulting in 50 fatalities and at least 50 non-fatal injuries. Police also discovered two improvised explosive devices in vehicles in connection with the attack.
  • On 10 December 2018, an Ohio-based individual was arrested for attempting to provide material support to the Islamic State of Iraq and ash-Sham (ISIS) for allegedly planning a mass-casualty attack on a synagogue in Toledo, Ohio. When researching a location, time, and weapons for the attack, the individual allegedly expressed a desire to attack the greatest number of people and inflict mass casualties.
  • On 27 October 2018, a Pennsylvania-based individual, who has been indicted for multiple federal charges including violations of civil rights, allegedly shot and killed 11 worshippers at a synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, wounding two other congregants and four responding law enforcement officers. He is currently awaiting trial for hate crimes and other federal charges.
  • On 13 June 2018, a Wisconsin-based individual was arrested and charged with attempting to provide material support to ISIS. The individual allegedly used a pro-ISIS social media account to suggest potential targets for bombing attacks, including churches.
  • On 22 December 2017, a California-based individual was arrested and charged with attempting to provide material support and resources to ISIS for a planned attack on a shopping center in San Francisco, California. Investigative reporting indicates the attack was intended to take place on Christmas Day and inflict mass causalities.

Recent statements and media from foreign terrorist organizations (FTOs) and FTO supporters online continue calls for attacks against places of worship and specific religious groups. Although HVEs generally do not respond to specific events with violence, we remain concerned that FTO media condemning the New Zealand mosque attacks, coupled with the possibility of repeated calls from FTOs encouraging supporters to attack during Ramadan, could lead to the increased possibility of retaliatory attacks by HVEs in the United States.

Outlook

Religious holiday gatherings are an attractive target for HVEs and domestic extremists because they offer an opportunity to capitalize on large crowds and increased symbolism of the target; however, most violent extremists are unlikely to act on specific days or in response to calls for action, and are instead influenced by a variety of factors to mobilize to violence.

Action steps

  • Report. Anyone who observes any suspicious behavior is encouraged to contact law enforcement immediately at 888-NYC-SAFE. If you see something, say something.
  • Overview. Look at the recent DHS publication, Mass Gatherings: Security Awareness for Soft Targets and Crowded Places, can be a great template for your security planning process. Virtually every suggestion in the document can be applied to your planning process. Organizations should “Connect, Plan, Train, and Report”. Applying these four steps in advance of a possible incident or attack can help better prepare  us to proactively think about the role that our whole community plays in the safety and security of our organizations.
  • Connect. The first step in the process is to “Connect”. You should have an ongoing relationship with your local police precinct. They should know when your services and programs are scheduled. If you don’t know your local police officials, the JCRC can help. Click here to contact us.
  • Plan. Download Potential Indicators, Common Vulnerabilities, and Protective Measures: Religious Facilities and Hometown Security Report Series: Houses of Worship for  suggestions and ideas.
  • Active Shooter response. Many of our contacts attended active shooter trainings offered in the New York area last week. If you could not attend either session or another training, click here for the JCRC-NY dedicated Active Shooter Resources webpage that includes resources from many sources. If you want to arrange a training the JCRC can help, based on available resources. Click here to contact us.
  • Access control. If an attacker can walk into a building unchallenged bad things will happen. No unauthorized person should be able to enter your building at any time. The first step is to develop a feasible access control policy (see our Sample Building Access Policies & Procedures) and to keep any door that cannot be monitored and controlled locked.
  • Security personnel. Guards at synagogues vary in quality, but generally, almost anything is better than nothing. Volunteers are good, trained volunteers are better. Uniformed guards (e.g., identifiable shirts, vests, blazers) can be deterrents. Guards who are off-duty or retired police or corrections officers bring experience, training and judgement. To be effective, any guard has to have clear instructions and procedures (see below). NYPD does have a Paid Detail Unit which provides officers to perform off-duty, uniformed security work within New York City for approximately $45/hour.  Click here for more information and contact details. For a discussion of armed vs. unarmed guards see our post Armed or unarmed security, what’s best? and a guest post here.

Best wishes for a happy and safe Pesach.

Quick tips: What should your guard(s) be doing?
no-potted-plantGuards should not be merely uniformed potted plants adorning your lobby. Rather, they should be an important and active component of your overall security plan.If you have a single guard, his/her logical priority is access control (see our suggestions on how to develop an access control policy here). At the same time, don’t lose sight of other important functions, including:

  • Vigilance. While they are on duty they can observe what is going on outside your building and monitor CCTV, possibly leading to the early detection of hostile surveillance or imminent hostile acts. See our suggestions for detecting hostile surveillance here.
  • Walk-arounds. Remember the Chelsea bombs? They were hidden in a trash container and a suitcase. If someone planted a device in your garbage can would anyone find it? One best practice is to have your guard tour your facility, inside and out, looking for something that “Just doesn’t look right”.
  • Notifications.Your guard should be given defined protocol and procedures if something “Just doesn’t look right” : who to notify (e.g., senior staff, general alarm), how to act and what else to do.
  • Crisis management. A well trained guard should be able to follow the protocols and procedures defined by you. They should be able to support responses such as bomb threats, evacuations and/or sheltering-in-place.

The security management industry calls instructions for guards, “post orders” which clearly outline the duties, responsibilities, and expectations of security guards. For example, your post orders should clearly set forth your access control policies and define the areas of your property that should be included in a walk-around and their time and frequency (e.g., upon arrival and upon returning from lunch).