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.
A 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 High Holiday security planning process, as well as other special events.
Your services are usually associated with larger than normal crowds and could be an attractive target for terrorism and other crimes. By connecting with local authorities, developing plans to identify issues and support incident response, training staff and volunteers, and reporting concerns to emergency authorities, many incidents may be mitigated or avoided.
Organizations should “Connect, Plan, Train, and Report”. Applying these four steps in advance of an incident or attack can help better prepare our institutions and and their employees to proactively think about the role they play in the safety and security of their businesses and communities.
Rosh Chodesh Elul includes clarion calls indicating that the High Holidays are coming soon. So, now is a good time to check out a recent presentation on synagogue security or to take a deeper dive into the library of documents available on the JCRC-NY Security Resources pages. Here are some relevant selections:
High Holiday Security and Emergency Preparedness Planning Library
- High Holidays: Are you ready to get out if you have to?
- JCRC-NY High Holiday Security Thinkplate
- Access control considerations during High Holiday services (PDF)
- Houses of Worship and the High Holidays
- Planning for the Unexpected – High Holiday Edition 2010 (PDF)
- Are you prepared? 5 steps to make your facility safer and more secure
- Sample Building Access Policies & Procedures (PDF)
- Bomb Threat Guidance resources. See also Hoax threats can be scary, too, To evacuate or not to evacuate? That is the question., DHS’ Introduction to Bomb Threat Management, Manhattan bomb threat: lessons learned, Bomb threat training video.
- Active Shooter Resources Page (DHS, FBI and NYPD)
- Cybersecurity Resources Page
- US Postal Inspection Service Guide to Mail Center Security (PDF)
Vulnerability, Risk and Safety Assessments and Planning
- FEMA: Reference Manual to Mitigate Potential Terrorist Attacks Against Buildings
- FEMA, Emergency Operations Planning
- Potential Indicators, Common Vulnerabilities, and Protective Measures: Religious Facilities (Updated)
- Hometown Security Report Series: Houses of Worship
- K-12 School Security: A Guide for Preventing and Protecting against Gun Violence (2nd ed., 2018) provides preventive and protective measures to address the threat of gun violence in schools. The Guide is delivered in two parts: the first portion is a PDF with general security best practices and considerations in narrative format; while the second portion is a Microsoft Excel-based security survey. Together, these documents outline action-oriented security practices and options for consideration based on the results of the individual school’s responses to the survey. While the primary audience for the Guide is the K-12 community, institutions of higher education or pre-K schools may also benefit from the information presented.
- NYPD: Engineering Security: Protective Design for High Risk Buildings
- OSHA: Evacuation Plans and Procedures eTool. This expert system will help you to create a basic Emergency Action Plan. This basic plan likely will be adequate for needs of many small and medium-sized entities. Most small and medium-sized entities can create basic plans using this system in 10 to 15 minutes. Larger, more complex organizations will require more work.
- Practical Information on Crisis Planning: A Guide for Schools and Communities. U.S. Department of Education, Office of Drug Free and Safe Schools. Taking action now can save lives, prevent injury, and minimize property damage in the moments of a crisis. The importance of reviewing and revising school and district plans cannot be underscored enough, and Practical Information on Crisis Planning: A Guide for Schools and Communities is designed to help you navigate this process. The Guide is intended to give schools, districts, and communities the critical concepts and components of good crisis planning, stimulate thinking about the crisis preparedness process, and provide examples of promising practices.
- Emergency Preparedness Planning Guide for Childcare Centers. From the Illinois Emergency Medical Services for Children (a collaborative program between the Illinois Department of Public Health and Loyola University Chicago). Lots of ideas to keep toddlers safe.
- Readiness and Emergency Management for Schools (REMS) Technical Assistance Center, U.S. Department of Education
- REMS: Conducting a Safety Audit
- California STAS: Protective Measures for Enhanced Facilities Security
- New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness Critical Infrastructure Protection Bureau: Facility Self-Assessment Tool (updated) and other tools here.
Tropical Storm Jose has been meandering around the Atlantic and the New York area is already experiencing rough surf from the system. As you can see from the graphic, the “cone of uncertainty” encompasses our region on Rosh Hashanah. Jose could both strengthen and weaken by then and affect portions of the east coast of the United States from North Carolina northward to New England. It is too soon to determine what or where. NYCEM will continue to monitor the status and progress of TS Jose and you should pay close attention to weather forecasts over the coming days.
What should you do until then?
- Plan. September is National Preparedness Month, so you should have an emergency plan covering four basic areas: How will I receive emergency alerts and warnings? What is my shelter plan? What is my evacuation route? What is my family/household communication plan?
- Click to these links for apps (Apple, Android) to help you make your plan.
- Check out the New York City Emergency Management pocket guides outlining the very basic steps all New Yorkers should take to prepare for an emergency available in English, Spanish, Chinese, Russian, Arabic, Bengali, French, Haitian Creole, Italian, Korean, Polish, Urdu, Yiddish
- Know your zone. New York City refined its Evacuation Zones after Sandy. Take a look at the NYC Hurricane Zone Finder and for Nassau, Suffolk and Westchester.
- Get notified. Sign up for emergency alerts from NYC, Nassau, Suffolk and/or Westchester (temporarily unavailable).
- Stock up. As we know from Texas and Florida, storms bring power outages and limited mobility. Build or restock your emergency preparedness kit. Include food and water sufficient for at least three days, medications, a flashlight, batteries, cash, and first aid supplies.
- Halacha. Plan for the worst and hope for the best. The Rabbinical Council of America distributed this document, dealing with questions arising from severe weather on Shabbat and Yom Tov.
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.
Assistant Commissioner, Public/Private Initiatives
New York City Emergency Management
165 Cadman Plaza East
Brooklyn, NY 11201