As of now, the analysts are saying that there are no known, specific threats to New York or the Jewish community.
Vehicle ramming is becoming more common. There have been recent several incidents, both domestic and overseas. In contrast to attacks against law enforcement, the victims in these incidents appeared to have been targeted indiscriminately by the perpetrators, as the sites likely were chosen with the intention to cause mass casualties and generate media attention, rather than target a specific group.
This incident should serve as a reminder that, out of an abundance of caution, every facility should review their security procedures and heighten their vigilance. A visible change in access control procedures can be reassuring to building users.
Given the relative simplicity of ramming, facility managers should evaluate whether bollards, hardened planters and other physical protection measures should be considered.
Also consider whether staff vehicles parked adjacent to your facility can be used as an interim measure to protect your building and your users.
Recommendations (HT to Paul DeMatteis)
- Your staff should be briefed on basic suspicious behavior and made aware that they are responsible for immediately reporting suspicious activity or persons.
- If security guards are utilized, they should be briefed concerning your enhanced expectations, and field supervision should make additional visits to your location to ensure compliance.
- Interior and exterior security inspections (by security, maintenance staff, trained volunteers, executive staff, etc.) should be conducted several times a day.
- During high volume arrival or departure times, additional security should be utilized.
- All security policies and procedures should be reviewed and strictly followed.
- All security equipment should be checked for fitness.
- To identify suspicious activity, where available, camera system recording (day and night) should be reviewed daily.
- Continue to maintain a close relationship with local law enforcement.
- Create a “culture of security” in your organization. Security is everybody’s business. Everyone should know, “If you see something, say something.”
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: https://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
firstname.lastname@example.org | August 30, 2017
While there are no reports indicating a specific threat to New York City or Jewish institutions during the Passover holiday, religious institutions and religious figures remain attractive targets for multiple terrorist groups—to include al-Qa’ida and the Islamic State of Iraq and ash Sham(ISIS)—and their adherents. Al-Qa’ida and ISIS have consistently called for attacks against Israel and Jewish interests and recent propaganda from both groups have urged sympathizers to carry out attacks using a range of tactics, including vehicle ramming, edged weapons, improvised explosive devices, and Molotov cocktails.
Terrorist groups and their sympathizers have targeted synagogues and other Jewish locations in the past, both abroad and here in the United States. In December 2016, Austrian authorities disrupted an alleged plot to target a synagogue on the first night of Hanukkah. Two individuals, one of whom was known to authorities, were questioned by police and found to be carrying knives intended for use against the rabbi and his congregants. In May of 2014, ISIL-linked French operative Mehdi Nemmouche opened fire with an assault rifle on a Jewish museum in Brussels, Belgium, resulting in the deaths of four people. In 2016, there were several foiled attack attempts at Jewish institutions in the United States. On April 29, James Gonzalo Medina, a convert to Islam, was arrested by the FBI for attempting to bomb the Aventura Turnberry Jewish Center in Florida during services on the seventh day of Passover. The FBI also foiled the plot of Mahin Khan, a self-described “American jihadist,” after he sought to build pipe and pressure cooker bombs.
Khan considered several targets, including the JCC in Tucson, Arizona. He was arrested in July 2016 after he contacted an individual he believed to be an ISIS fighter.
In addition to the threat from foreign terrorist organizations, domestic terrorism increasingly threatens minority groups and institutions in the United States. In February 2017, a South Carolina white supremacist was arrested after an undercover investigation indicated that he was planning to attack minorities in the local area, and had by that point purchased a weapon to do so. The suspect, Benjamin McDowell, allegedly wanted to replicate Dylann Roof’s mass casualty attack and made a number of online threats against a local synagogue. He further made public statements in support of violent white supremacist ideology, according to press reports.
Hate crimes continue to rise around the United States, a number of which have been anti-Semitic in nature. In addition to the desecration of grave sites at cemeteries in Philadelphia and St. Louis, the Anti-Defamation League stated that there have been at least 166 bomb threats made to Jewish institutions across 38 states in the U.S. and three Canadian provinces since January 2017, none of which resulted in the discovery of explosives. On March 23, 2017, 18-year-old Michael Ron David Kadar, a dual US-Israeli citizens, was arrested by Israel on suspicion of making more than 100 bomb threats against JCCs in the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand over the past six months. Kadar’s motive remains unknown. In St. Louis, Juan Thompson was arrested for making at least eight threats to Jewish institutions around the country, including the Jewish History Museum in Manhattan, and Jewish schools and a local JCC.
Despite the arrests of two individuals associated with the multiple, unfounded bomb threats, it is probable that other like-minded individuals may seek to carry out similar threats against Jewish locations given the extensive high-profile media coverage these threats received.
The series of anonymous, unfounded bomb threats against multiple targets was likely intended to spread fear, create considerable disruptions to business and people’s lives, and generate financial costs. Bomb threats can also create soft targets; evacuations of large groups of people into the open offer possible attackers a large, predictable target in a desired location vulnerable to a variety of attacks, to include active shooters, improved explosive devices, edged weapons, and vehicle-ramming assaults.
If You See Something, Say Something – 1-888-NYC-SAFE (1-888-692-7233)
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:
- terrorists’ rarely provide operational insight into their planning, and
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.