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.
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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.
Click here for an expanded PDF version of the JCRC-NY High Holiday Planning Thinkplate 2019.