Security/Emergency Information

Manhattan bomb threat: lessons learned

Bomb threat in Manhattan gets major NYPD response

Waiting for the “All-Clear” while a synagogue building is searched in a major response to a bomb threat in Manhattan. Photo: @ClarkPenaEH

Bomb threats are nothing new. Paris and Brussels have educated more Americans that terrorist attacks are a scary possibility, but the Jewish community has known that for a long time.

Dealing with a bomb threat is never easy, but in today’s environment, planning and cool heads are critical. Click here for a tool for bomb threat planning.

After the NYPD issued an all-clear, we spoke with Aaron Strum, Executive Director of The Jewish Center about his crazy day and “lessons learned”. This is what we learned:

  • Planning is where its at. Even the best organizations can make mistakes if they’re “just winging it”. If you receive a communication (phone, mail, email) what should you do first: evacuate or lockdown? Who’s going to call the police? Do you know what to tell them? Making those decisions during planning sessions is preferable to making them under pressure.
  • Secure-obp_dhs-doj-bomb-threat-guidance-imageGet everyone on the same page.  Often Jewish institutions house multiple organizations under the same roof. Every organization in the building should have the same plan, and there should be a single leader calling the shots. Everyone in the building should have the same training and participate in common exercises and drills.
  • When the cavalry comes over the hill, they’re in charge. OK, you have your plan and you like it. One element of your plan is to designate someone to be at the door to meet the first responders. Brief them about the details, but you’re probably going to have to repeat yourself when the next wave of police come (The UWS event had the precinct, Emergency Service Unit, Strategic Response Group and the Bomb Squad respond). Someone may overrule your plan. Assume that they know what they’re talking about.
  • You must be able to communicate.
    • Internally. That means PA systems, intercoms, walkie-talkies, texts, runners, whatever. Everyone in the building has to know what is happening so that they can execute their role in your plan.
    • Externally. Everyone will want to know what’s going on and you will be deluged by phone calls, texts, emails. Plan on that. Quick tips:
      • Forward your calls. Parents want to know that their kids are safe. Have the capacity to forward your calls from the main number to a cell phone or an alternate landline.
      • Mass notification system, phone trees, email groups or mass texting. There are many ways to do it, but people want to know something. There are services and software that can efficiently handle the problem using multiple channels (simultaneous email, landline and cell phone calls/texts) or you can set up your own system (e.g., free services like Google Hangouts or search for “group texting”). Bottom line: set something up ahead of time, draft sample messages and be ready.
      • Media nudnikim. Somehow, enterprising reporters will find you. Remember, your first responsibility is to your constituents, not the media. You don’t have to talk to them, at least until you have time to breathe. (See our  Disaster and Crisis Response Systems for Jewish Organizations, p. 171 ff)
  • Determine places of assembly. So, you’re evacuating and it’s 10° outside. Where should you go with your dozens or hundreds of students? Another school, a public place? In this case there was a synagogue building close by (which went into lockdown, at the advice of the NYPD), but don’t wing it. Find the best place and have a discussion with them ahead of time. Often, you can develop a mutual assistance agreement (See our  Disaster and Crisis Response Systems for Jewish Organizations, p. 111 ff). Also remember that you need dismissal/parental pickup plans that will work in the place of assembly.
  • Know your building. Before issuing an “all-clear” someone will have to search every place in your building that a bomb can be hidden.
    • Lock unused spaces. As a matter of course, keep unused spaces in your building and closets, elevator rooms, mechanical rooms, etc., locked. If spaces need not be searched the search will go quicker.
    • List hidden spaces. Every building has nooks and crannies hidden to most people, even to those using the building every day. Make  a list of those places, floor-by-floor. When the search for a device is underway, you don’t want them to miss anything.
  • Do a post-incident postmortem. Take the time to have the key players sit down to decide what went right and what went wrong. Then modify your plans accordingly.


Emotional trauma resources for schools and parents

The horrific events in Paris last Friday night take a toll on most people. Our chil
dren are not immune. Schools and parents have to intervene.

Grief and Mourning during an Emergency (Center for Disease Control)

Disasters may cost people property, possessions, and the lives of their loved ones. Most cultures have specific, relatively unique beliefs, rituals, and practices for death, dying, and grieving. These may be impacted during a crisis, and it’s important for communicators to convey that any illness, injury, or death is a tragedy.

Grief is a universal emotion, but no two people experience grief in exactly the same way. People may experience mental, emotional, and physical reactions to loss. Sudden, traumatic loss is an affront to an individual’s sense of order; and, in a crisis, the loss may affect an entire community. Public health and other response professionals must prepare themselves to confront the realities of these deaths and to assist the community in its bereavement process.

Compassionate communicators should show sensitivity in their messages and reporting. Response organizations must respect that every death represents the loss of a vital member of the community. Responders should strive to understand grieving rituals from different ethnic and cultural perspectives. Communicators may also engage community members in actions—such as symbolic ribbon-wearing or community-wide memorial services—to promote unity. Communication should acknowledge all loss, display empathy, and encourage people to help their community.

For the more details on communicating through grief, please see Crisis and Emergency Risk Communication, 2014 Edition at

The emotional trauma experts at our sister agency in the UJA-Federation network, the Jewish Board, recommend the following resources from the National Child Traumatic Stress Network | National Center for PTSD:Jewish Board2

The Islamic State and the Jews

Islamic State Video in Hebrew

Screen shot from Hebrew language Islamic State video.

Stratfor, the respected, global intelligence firm,  just published an insightful analytical report, The Islamic State Weighs in on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, with the following forecasts:

  • Lone wolf attacks against Jewish targets outside of Israel will increase in the coming weeks.
  • Anti-Semitic violence will provoke reprisal attacks and vigilantism. 
  • Mimicking a recent string of knife attacks in Israel, assailants elsewhere in the world who sympathize with the Palestinian cause may use similar tactics.

The Stratfor analysis follows Washington Post and Haaretz reports of a series of Islamic State videos praising the attacks in Israel and calling for more. One of the videos featured a Hebrew-speaking, knife-wielding Islamic State fighter who labeled the Jewish people the primary enemy and called for their deaths in Israel and throughout the world. Some of the videos made their way through social media outlets accompanied by the hashtag #BeheadtheJew. There is also an ADL document describing the videos.

See these free, online courses from the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism,
University of Maryland, for a deeper understanding of rise of the Islamic State.

While the almost daily attacks in Israel are deeply disturbing, we should be mindful that on December 7, 2014,  NYC evidently experienced its own “lone wolf” knife attack at Chabad Headquarters in Crown Heights. Even though law enforcement sources did not find that the perpetrator had any terrorist connections, the incident is a haunting reminder of what could happen here.

While law enforcement authorities do not know of any specific threats, Jewish institutions should review their existing security precautions and take appropriate steps to safeguard their constituents.

Think about:

  • Police relationships. Remember, one of the most important recommendations is to establish a close, working relationship with your local police authorities. They should know about your services, school schedules, special meetings, etc. Be in contact with the community affairs officer of your local precinct and let him/her know about the times of daily services and school arrival and dismissal times.
  • Protective measures. DHS just published: Potential Indicators, Common Vulnerabilities, and Protective Measures: Religious Facilities. This is an new (October 2015) and excellent overview of facility security and emergency planning. This can be used to set the agenda for your security/building committee to plan for the unexpected. There is also a good table with indicators of suspicious activity. Another new resource is Protective Measures for Enhanced Facility Security. Please review the documents and act accordingly. 
  • Security awareness. Law enforcement and Homeland Security leaders recommend that organizations train their staffs and constituencies in security awareness, especially the signs of suspicious behavior — in short, if it just doesn’t look right. If you see something, say something: in New York City (888) NYC-SAFE or elsewhere in NY: (866) SAFE-NYS.
  • Active Shooters. Click here for more information on active shooters and armed intruders.
  • Suggested Protective Measures
    •  Increase visibility of security and law enforcement personnel in areas adjacent to and in front of security checkpoints to deter unwanted activity;
    • Raise awareness among employees by conducting “all hazards” awareness training;
    • Establish liaison and regular communications with local, state, and federal law enforcement, emergency responders, and public health organizations to enhance information exchange or clarify emergency responses;
    • Report missing or stolen equipment to the proper authorities;
    • Raise community awareness of potential threats and vulnerabilities; and
    • Encourage employees, tenants, and visitors to report anything that appears to be odd or suspicious.
  • Click here to subscribe to the JCRC-NY Security and Emergency Preparedness Alert list. Review other JCRC-NY recommended resources here.
  •  If you want to arrange for trainings, access other resources or have any questions you can contact JCRC-NY here.

Cybersecurity: it’s not too late

Security crosswordSee the blog entry below from TechSoup, and the Cyber-awareness pages from the FBI and the NYPD and the JCRC Cybersecurity Resources page. Take a quiz from Symantec. Raise your Cyber-awareness and Cyber-security before it’s too late!

Are you a trivia master? Or a security enthusiast? Put your security smarts to the test and take the weekly security quiz brought to you by Symantec! For the entire month of October, TechSoup and our donor partners will be participating in National Cyber Security Awareness Month (also known as NCSAM). We’ll have blog posts, virtual events, resources, and more to help your organization stay secure online.

Here’s the sweet part: if you answer the quizzes correctly, you’ll be eligible for a prize courtesy of Symantec! We’ll be doing a random drawing weekly for a $100 Amazon gift card. And if you answer all four quizzes correctly, you might win a $500 Amazon gift card.

Read the sweepstakes terms and conditions.

Week 1 Quiz: Malware, Adware, and Viruses, Oh My!
Do you know the difference between malware, adware, viruses, and worms, and how to avoid them?

  • Malware is a term used to describe programs that are written with malicious intent. There are multiple types of malware used for a variety of nefarious purposes.
  • Adware makes its way on to your computer and causes unwanted advertisements to pop up. It may change your home screen or redirect you to websites you do not intentionally access.
  • Viruses are like a bad cold; this specific type of malware spreads itself once it’s initially run. Viruses can attach themselves to good files on your machine, or be self-contained and search out other machines to infect.
  • Worms are a type of virus that do not need to attach themselves to a good file to run. These bad guys move around on their own, as self-contained viruses, searching out other machines to infect.

Take the Quiz Now

Study Up
Need some more information before you start the quiz? Check out these security resources from TechSoup and beyond:

Image: Maksim Kabakou / Shutterstock

Posted in Cybersecurity

Sukkahs in the wind

Please distribute on blogs and synagogue/community listserves.

NYC Emergency Management (NYCEM) is now advising New Yorkers to prepare for ongoing sustained winds upwards of 30mph with wind gusts in excess of 70mph. Most Succoth, especially in open areas or experiencing sustained gusts, are not built for such conditions.

The Rabbinical Council of America is distributing this document, developed by Rabbi Kenneth Brander with profound thanks to Rav Hershel Schachter, shlita for his guidance. The relevant portion of the document follows:

Sukkot, Shemeni Atzeret & Simchat HaTorah

  •  If the weather forecast is for winds of over 40 mph there is a serious danger that the sukkah will become flying debris which can create dangerous projectiles and should be dismantled before Shabbat/Yom Tov.
  • If there is a concern of schach flying around (in winds that are less than 40 mph winds) then the schach can be tied down even with plastic cable ties.
  • If schach needs to be replaced or tied down on the sukkah on Shabbat or Yom Tov in can be done by a Gentile.
  • If there is concern about going to shul on Simchat Torah morning – Vezot ha’Berakha can be read on the night of Simchat Torah in five aliyot. Alternatively should the storm pass by Simchat Torah afternoon then hakafot and torah reading can be read at an early mincha on Simchat Torah.

Of course, individuals and organizations should consult with their appropriate halachic authorities. Some additional tips:

  • Secure your Sukkah to fixed objects such as posts or fencing. Unsecured bamboo mats can become airborne, leading to injuries and property damage. Unsecured walls (either canvas or plywood) are essentially sails and could collapse and/or blow away. This is already happening in the Washington, DC area.
  • Balconies. Succoth built on balconies on higher floors are subject to higher winds.
  • There is a likelihood of blackouts during the storm. See the RCA document here for additional guidance. The source document with citations can be found here.
  • Drying. If you do take down and secure your Sukkah over the next few days, the materials and skhakh are likely to be wet. To avoid mold, be sure to thoroughly dry everything after Sukkoth before you store it. (HT Dori Zofan).

Thanks to NYCEM Commissioner Joseph Esposito and Assistant Commissioner Ira Tannenbaum for their ongoing leadership and concern. Here is the NYCEM guidance:

The National Weather Service forecast for the next several days includes wind speeds that are predicted to be between 15 and 30 miles per hour with gusts up to 40 mph at times. High winds can down trees and power lines, blow out windows, blow down signs, cause flying debris, and structural collapse. Individuals who have constructed a Succah for the holiday should take appropriate actions to secure the structure and roofing to prevent damage or injury from flying debris.

Ira Tannenbaum
Assistant Commissioner, Public/Private Initiatives
New York City Emergency Management
165 Cadman Plaza East
Brooklyn, NY 11201