Is your synagogue safe? Being prepared is more than just security

Guy Sapirstein, PhD

Resilience Consulting, LLC 

As recent events in Europe and in the US have demonstrated, threats towards Jewish organizations are not diminishing. With fighting in the Middle East drawing in extremists from various countries, the West in particular will need to face a set of complex consequences. First, these extremists, who become well trained in combat, will return to their respective countries of origin. Second, the publicity generated through mainstream and social media is attracting others who have not gone to fight, but fancy themselves as jihadists. Both of these groups present a potential threat to Jewish organizations, and that is even without taking into account the numerous shootings that take place all over the country on a daily basis.

Jewish organizations, long sensitive to their vulnerability, have taken some steps towards mitigating these risks. Many have installed access control systems and cameras, some have security guards, and a few have changed the design of their facility to enhance protection. These security measures, address some of the threats the organization faces with the goal of reducing the risk of something bad happening. The glaring omission in this approach is that it does not address the organization’s vulnerabilities.

An organization’s vulnerabilities include the people who could be affected, infrastructure that could be damaged, and process that could be disrupted (i.e., being unable to deliver the services it provides). The security guard (or access control system) is there to stop a dangerous individual from entering the facility. But the guard and other security measures do not replace or address the actions that need to be taken during an incident to care for the people, protect the infrastructure, and ensure the organization can continue to provide its services to the community (following the incident). Preparedness and Response Planning provides the policies, procedures, and training necessary for addressing these vulnerabilities.

Preparedness and Response planning addresses questions around notification (how will people know something bad is happening), communication (how will the organization communicate internally and externally during the crisis), response plans (e.g. evacuation, lockdown, etc.) and determining which response is most appropriate, as well as other factors.

It is not uncommon for organizations and those that lead them to feel overwhelmed with these tasks.  Some opt for spending a lot of money on security measures (ignoring the preparedness planning), and others rely on the faith that since nothing has happened, they are safe as is. Even organizations that have developed plans need to periodically review those plans to see if they effectively address current needs.

The Preparedness Planning process developed by Resilience Consulting, LLC and implemented in schools, synagogues, and other Jewish (and non-Jewish) organizations provides a scalable, and effective process that can be implemented quickly and cost-effectively.  

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