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.
- Get 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.
- Know who’s in charge…and who’s next. Ok, the call comes in, what’s the next step? Should you evacuate or shelter-in-place? There has to be a clear delineation of command. At the same time, there have to be backups, with full authority to make decisions, in place.
We recently reviewed the emergency plans for a school that included the instruction, “If a threat is received, find Mr. Levine …” What if Mr. Levine is out of the building? The plan was silent. Should anyone call 911? The plan was silent. Everything stopped until Mr. Levine was found. Plans must be flexible and adaptable, rather than reliant on a single person.
- 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.
I asked my colleague, “Do you know your Protective Security Advisor (PSA)?” He replied, “What?”
DHS employs PSA’s in all 50 states and many states have multiple regions. Our experience here in NY is that our PSA’s are a wonderful resource. They are hard-working, knowledgeable and professional.
- Security surveys. Subject to time constraints you can ask your PSA to conduct security surveys and assessments of your facilities. We’ve joined our PSA’s during some of these sessions and their suggestions are both sound and pragmatic.
- Training. PSA’s have access to a wide variety of training options, e.g. active shooters, suspicious packages, severe weather. Even if you don’t know your exact need, talk to them. They can open up a variety of resources for you.
- Special events planning. Let them know if you are planning a high profile event. They can advise you on security and logistical issues.
- Outreach. Get on their radar. They will invite you to various trainings and events.
Click here for more information on Protective Security Advisors. To contact your local PSA, please contact PSCDOperations@hq.dhs.gov. To contact NY PSA’s or if you have questions or need other assistance please complete the form below.
Did you hear the one about a forgetful British bridegroom who made a hoax bomb threat rather than admit he’d neglected to book the venue for his wedding? He was sentenced to a year in jail.
What should you do if your organization receives a threat? The FBI and DHS released a new “pocket” bomb threat guidance document available here. It provides a two-page overview to help you deal with bomb threats: planning and preparation, your “emergency toolkit”, what you should do if you receive a threat, how to assess the threat and the possible responses.
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. Learn how to handle a phone threat with this checklist.
Finally, read an New York Times account of an October 15, 2012 bomb threat (with an actual pipe bomb) to the Home Depot store in Huntington, NY. The store’s bomb threat plan was put to good use.
- NY Times: Queens Man Pleads Guilty in Plot to Blow Up Manhattan Synagogue
- NY Post: Synagogue bomb plotter gets 10 years after pleading guilty
- NY Post Editorial: The NYPD’s lesson for the FBI
- NY Daily News: Queens man pleads guilty to plotting to blow up synagogues
- Wall Street Journal: Guilty Plea in Terror Case
- Times of Israel (AP): NYC synagogue bomb plotter pleads guilty, faces 10-year sentence and deportation
- Manhattan DA Cyrus W. Vance, Jr.:Ahmed Ferhani Pleads Guilty to Terror Charges for 2011 Plot to Blow up Manhattan Synagogues and Churches
- Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly: “My congratulations to District Attorney Vance for successfully prosecuting this important case. He rose to the occasion in making sure Ahmed Ferhani received significant jail time for plotting to kill New Yorkers as they worshiped. In his allocution, Ferhani made clear – as our Intelligence Division detectives documented – that he intended to attack congregants in a Manhattan synagogue with a hand grenade and gunfire, for the purpose of intimidating and coercing the Jewish population of New York City.”
|Wall Street Journal, “Focus on Cargo Security Steps”, November 1, 2010|
We continue to advise Jewish institutions to carefully screen their mail and packages. Be suspicious of any item coming from an unknown sender, especially unknown senders from overseas.
If you receive a package from an unknown sender and suspect that it could be an explosive device or it may contain a hazardous substance, do not disturb it, do not try to open it. Leave the room, close the door and call 911. For specific steps see steps below.
The packages from Yemen discovered last week were designed to be hard to detect, even with an x-ray device. They prove that terrorist tactics are evolving and adapting to our security measures.
- Was the delivery from an expected shipper? Did your usual UPS driver deliver the package? Was the package from one of your regular vendors? (e.g., The NYPD received a call this week about a printer toner delivery to a Jewish institution. The caller was questioned and told that, because they had ordered the toner and it came from their usual office supply company, the shipment should not be considered suspicious.) Even if the package is from a regular supplier, did it come from the right address. Did it come from overseas?
- Even without sophisticated equipment you can often tell when something is wrong. Use your “Just Doesn’t Look Right” instincts.
- Was the package professionally packed? People who regularly order over the internet can probably answer this question.
- Did someone tamper with this box? Does it appear that the package was opened and resealed? Are there additional layers of tape or different tape and/or fasteners? Are there cut marks on the packaging?
- Was the package one of a dozen or all by itself?
- Talk to your mail carrier, FedEx and UPS deliverer. They are your first line of defense and they probably know what kind of packages they deliver to your facility. Ask them about any briefings received about the screening done at their central facilities. Let them know, in a friendly way, that you are “counting on them”.
Recommended mail protocols (from previous post)
We recommend that organizations consider and adopt formal mail screening protocols, appropriate for their organization, staff and building. Your protocols should consider that a variety of hazards can arrive by mail, including explosives and toxins.
Your protocols may include steps, such as:
- Larger organizations should continue to screen and x-ray their mail. The USPS best practices for mail center security can be found here. It contains an excellent chapter, “Protect Your Business from Package Bombs and Bomb Threats”.
- 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.
- 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.
- Screen your mail in a separate room. That way if you find anything suspicious, you can easily isolate it.
- 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).
- 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:
PO BOX 555
NEW YORK NY 10116-0555