From Tragedy to Teamwork

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Michael Masters

Michael Masters

Following the 2018 synagogue attack in Pittsburgh, leaders of the Jewish community came together with technologists, public safety experts, and intelligence and security professionals to determine whether technology could have made a difference in protecting our community.

The result of those efforts is what we believe to be the most advanced technology stack ever designed to safeguard the Jewish community. It is capable of tracking threats, monitoring incidents and notifying leaders and community members alike. All of this helps protect Jewish facilities and secure Jewish life.


It is known as Project RAIN (Realtime Actionable Intelligence Network) and is operated by the Secure Community Network at our 24/7/365 Jewish Security Operations Command Center. In 2022, the system tracked 13,030 active threats to Jewish facilities and received 2,539 incident reports (up 25% from 2021), marking the highest reporting level since we began our monitoring efforts.

Based on tracking and incident reporting, we made 770 notifications to law enforcement last year, including to the FBI and Department of Homeland Security.

For the first time, Jewish communities — via Federations and SCN — launched the first-ever coordinated suspicious activity and security incident reporting system earlier this year.

Based on a successful model deployed in a coordinated fashion between Hillel International, ADL and SCN (reportcampushate.org), this system is now operating in more than 50% of Jewish communities with a professionally led security initiative. This strategic approach involves a full-time former member of law enforcement as a security director.

While we are making demonstrable progress on a more coordinated system, we have more work to do and the need for coordination has never been clearer.

Earlier this month, a jury sentenced the individual convicted of murder in the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting to death. For those who doubt the importance of a coordinated approach, we need only listen to the individual who undertook the worst massacre of Jews in U.S. history: Testimony at the trial noted that he considered other targets, including a woman in Cleveland and two local Jewish Community Centers.

Testimony indicated that, on the morning of the shooting, which the offender called “attack day,” he drove past the synagogue and saw people through the windows. He then drove past the nearby JCC. Based on an assessment of the security at both institutions and his ability to inflict the greatest damage possible, he decided to attack the synagogue.

The Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh had made considerable investments in security before the attack. This included prioritizing incident reporting, physical security and training. All of these efforts have been credited with mitigating the potential loss of life in the attack. Such measures have also been an integral part of our coordinated national system. Throughout the trial, SCN staffed a first-of-its-kind mobile command post in Pittsburgh, which was monitoring security issues surrounding the trial and supporting the Federation.

In some communities, however, the approach to security remains siloed. This is because local organizations do not work together and, more broadly, the community does not engage with a national security system. When individual security personnel operate with little to no coordination with colleagues and fail to share vital information in a timely manner or at all, we are all impacted. It is only a matter of time before something happens with deadly results.

There are different reasons for an organization to take a siloed approach. Some relate to capability, but many revolve around individual organizations seeking credit — and cash. While this approach may benefit the individual organization and even succeed, it is not how security and intelligence professionals know security should work and how it can work.
The consensus in the professional security director network that works on behalf of the Jewish community — the strongest collection of former operational law enforcement, security and intelligence personnel ever brought together to protect a faith-based community in the history of this country — is clear: Coordination and consistency creates cohesion and safer communities.

This is more achievable than ever, thanks in part to LiveSecure, an effort led by the Jewish Federations of North America in collaboration with SCN, which is providing resources to both SCN and local communities via Federations. This makes the establishment and enhancement of local and regional security programs connected to the national system easier than ever before.

With a pre-9/11 mindset, we cannot construct a truly effective Jewish security system in a world where bad actors move at the speed of social media and don’t respect boundaries.
For those that would argue otherwise, they don’t need to take the word of security professionals. They can take the word of those who have targeted our community with deadly effect.

The Pittsburgh offender was thinking about where and how to attack various facilities with the most impact. We have countless examples of other mass attackers doing the same. If we are not working to create a coordinated system to address this reality, then we are failing our community and making it easier for evil to get in the door and take Jewish lives.

Michael Masters is the national director and CEO of the Secure Community Network.

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