Category Archive: Terrorism

Brussels attack analysis | get smart fast

Posted on March 27, 2016

Last week’s attack and sorting through the information overload is daunting. We regularly turn to a few knowledgeable sources to help to guide us when we’re perplexed. Here are a few examples:

  1. Foreign Fighters in Syria/Iraq (2012 to 2014) – per million population

    Founded in 1996, the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism (ICT) is one of the leading academic institutes for counter-terrorism in the world, facilitating international cooperation in the global struggle against terrorism. It is based at the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC), Herzliya and includes some of the top experts in terrorism, counter-terrorism, homeland security, threat vulnerability, risk assessment, intelligence analysis, national security and defense policy. See their The Brussels Attacks – What do we know? & Insights from ICT Experts.

  2. The National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism—better known as START—is a Department of Homeland Security Center of Excellence headquartered at the University of Maryland comprised of an international network of scholars committed to the scientific study of the causes and human consequences of terrorism in the United States and around the world. See their Terrorism in Belgium and Western Europe; Attacks against Transportation Targets; Coordinated Terrorist Attacks.
  3. The U.S. State Department issued a Travel Alert for Europe cautioning that terrorist groups continue to plan near-term attacks throughout Europe, targeting sporting events, tourist sites, restaurants, and transportation. The State Department also maintains a Worldwide Caution which highlights that all European countries remain vulnerable to attacks from transnational terrorist organizations.
  4. Stratfor is a geopolitical intelligence firm that provides strategic analysis and forecasting to individuals and organizations around the world. One of their recent analyses observes, “The Brussels blasts are a striking reminder of the difficulty of preventing attacks against soft targets. Unlike hard targets, which tend to require attackers to use large teams of operatives with elaborate attack plans or large explosive devices to breach defenses, soft targets offer militant planners an advantage in that they can frequently be attacked by a single operative or small team using a simple attack plan. In addition, attacks against transportation-related targets such as metro stations and airports allow attackers to kill large groups of people and attract significant media attention.” Alongside transportation hubs, hotels and restaurants, institutions — such as houses of worship and schools — are classic soft targets. See Brussels Blasts: The Struggle to Secure Soft Targets.
  5. Scott Atran is an anthropologist at France’s National Center for Scientific Research, Oxford University, John Jay College and the University of Michigan and author of Talking to the Enemy and In Gods We Trust. His research specialty is terrorists: how they are recruited, how they think, why are they so effective. He and his team are quite busy these days: he’s embedded with the Peshmerga outside of Mosul interviewing captured (and soon to be executed) ISIL fighters; his team is running experiments in neighborhoods like Molenbeek and around the Bataclan, and tracing out the networks of the friends, family and disciples of the Paris and Brussels terrorists. His, often raw, Facebook posts from the battlefield carry a surrealistic quality. He recently addressed the UN Security Council on The Role of Youth in Countering Violent Extremism and Promoting PeaceWe do not necessarily agree with every one of his conclusions, but he is consistently thoughtful and incisive.

JCRC: training here, training there

The past few months have been busy with JCRC-NY coordinating major  training sessions for hundreds of institutions in the NY area. There is a heightened awareness of the potential for attacks and a willingness on the part of organizations to “Step up their Game.”

All of the trainings focused on security/terrorism awareness, building a culture of security within organizations and active shooter responses. Kudos and thanks to our wonderful partners, including: NYPD Counterterrorism, U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the FBI. Our common goals are to strengthen the ties between law enforcement and nonprofit organizations and to empower them by giving them to tools and knowledge to respond as well as possible. Here’s some examples of our recent work: Continue Reading

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.
  • 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.


The Islamic State and the Jews

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.

Looking forward to a safe 5776

Posted on August 25, 2015

The attacks on two synagogues in December, 2014 (in Har Nof, Jerusalem and Chabad Headquarters in Brooklyn) and the shooting in the Charleston church should inform our High Holiday planning. Security and emergency response planning must be an important component of your overall planning.

While there are no specific threats to U.S. Jewish institutions or individuals — out of an abundance of caution — 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.

As a general rule, synagogues should:

  • Create a culture of security. Institutions shouldn’t 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, click here and the ADL’s Guide to Detecting Surveillance of Jewish Institutions and 18 Best Practices for Jewish Institutional Security.
  • Be in contact 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.
    • Police coverage on the High Holidays
      • 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 assessment and to secure the resources that they need to protect you. They will be in contact with federal, state and county officials, as well as the regional fusion center to make their assessment. They also factor in local incidents.
      • In some instances the traffic conditions surrounding services warrant police attention and officers will be assigned.
      • Some police departments allow private parties to hire uniformed officers for events. For more information click on our contact form here and someone will get back to you.

Continue Reading