Jewish community centers across the country are reassessing their security protocols after the recent waves of called-in bomb threats, but for JCCs, synagogues and Jewish day schools, accelerating sturdy security is really nothing new.
Amy Krulik, CEO of Kaiserman JCC in Wynnewood, noted that security procedures are always a work in progress.
“You’re always evaluating them, always revisiting, always fine-tuning and always looking for opportunities to do things better,” she said.
Kaiserman JCC was one of dozens of JCCs across the country that received a threatening phone call, the caller of which has since been arrested.
On Feb. 28, the day the call came in to the campus, the building was evacuated for several hours.
According to the JCC Association of North America, bomb threats came in five separate waves, totaling 100 incidents at 81 locations in 33 states and two Canadian provinces.
Needless to say, in the three months that Krulik has been CEO of Kaiserman, a lot has changed. The early protocols for a bomb threat were to evacuate the building. Now, that’s not exactly the case.
“There are more specific reasons why you would stay in place and allow law enforcement to help guide you through that process, and other times when you would leave,” she explained.
Without jeopardizing too many details of Kaiserman’s security outline, Krulik said it comes down to the details of the phone call.
There are kinds of calls that give a clear indication that the building must be evacuated, but others may lure people outside where a shooter is waiting in an unprotected space.
The Philadelphia Police Department, hosted by the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, recently held a training session for Jewish executives from local agencies and JCCs to learn about how to survey your space in anticipation of these crises.
“If you came into your own house — because you live there and know what your house looks like when you left — if things were out of place when you came back, you would notice,” Krulik said. “That’s the responsibility that we as staff and people have who are regular users of the building, to learn how to be ever-vigilant and aware of their surroundings.”
She added that regulars on campus know better than law enforcement officials if something is out of place — it all goes back to the increasingly more germane phrase, “If you see something, say something.”
A free training program at the JCC led by Community Security Service is planned for June, which will be open to the community.
“So whether you’re at synagogue, JCC, at school, the mall, you learn to have an awareness,” she said.
The first way to gain that awareness: Look up from your cellphones.
Kaiserman has video surveillance inside and outside the building, plus now they’re making it clear that staff and members are paying close attention.
“Eyes and ears are on this campus all the time,” she added.
They have also since made modifications to door access and upgraded to 60 walkie-talkies so in the case of an emergency and cellphone towers are down, they are still able to communicate.
A member of the JCC’s security committee described how security should work, using a cheesy analogy.
“If you have a block of Swiss cheese, with all the slices lined up, in any layer of security it’s not perfect. Every layer is going to have some holes,” Krulik recalled. “The idea is to have lots of layers of security but where none of the holes line up. So in the end what you have is a solid block of cheese, or a solid block of security.”
Adding these small changes, like the walkie-talkies, gave Krulik a stronger piece of mind.
“It was the best way for me to also feel like everything that we’re doing is a piece of this puzzle. It’s one more slice of cheese, but that no one thing is expected to be perfect. So we’ve stopped, quite frankly, poking holes,” she continued.
As a direct result of the called-in bomb threat to Kaiserman’s campus, one preschool family and two members have ended their JCC membership, but otherwise, Krulik said there hasn’t been a disturbance among members coming to the JCC.
But she noted that security threats are nothing new for JCCs. Back when she worked at Kaiserman in the ’90s, she remembers preparing for anthrax threats. And that was still not the first time a JCC was threatened.
Les Cohen, executive director of Katz JCC in Cherry Hill, N.J., said it also only received one threat from the recent activity.
“We have seen no change in decline of membership, program registration, event attendance or usage of our building,” he added via email.
The safety procedures in place at Katz for bomb threats or any other type of threat also follows a similar revisiting that Krulik mentioned.
“These procedures have been in place before the recent wave of bomb threats JCC experienced,” he wrote. “We work closely with law enforcement and make adjustments to our plan periodically based on their recommendations.
“Members and parents should be assured we are doing everything in our power in accordance to the advice of law enforcement to make this the safest and most secure facility it can be,” he continued.
“Any changes that we’ve made, people have been very responsive to,” Krulik said. “Whatever it is, there’s a lot of patience around safety and security in the building. … We all have an important responsibility to be a part of security, to be willing and active participants.”
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