We are thankful that last week’s bomb scares were only that — there were no casualties, no damage and no bombs found at the 16 Jewish community centers in the East and South, including the Jewish Community Center in Park Heights, which received threatening calls on Jan. 9. We praise the institutions that followed security protocols and hustled adults and children out of the building, in some cases into the bitter cold, and to safety.
While investigations into what happened are ongoing, it seems that with the aid of robocalls, the perpetrators were able to transform what might have been a scattered scare into what appeared like a mass threat. Just who the culprits are and what their motivations were is still unknown. But there’s no reason something like this couldn’t happen again. Or something worse.
With the help of the Secure Community Network, the group affiliated with the Jewish Federations of North America that coordinates security for most of the Jewish community, our local institutions have gained expanded access to federal funding to upgrade their security posture. Such disbursements under the Nonprofit Security Grants Program operated by the Department of Homeland Security now total millions of dollars a year and fund such things as the installation of security cameras, crisis training, perimeter hardening and other nondisclosed activities.
We believe that the Jewish community is safe. But we encourage those who are monitoring communal security, advising our institutions and implementing security protocols to communicate more fully with the public in order to help put people’s minds at ease when they should be at ease.
Thus, for example, we don’t think that David Posner, vice president for strategic performance at the JCC Association of North America, went far enough in his upbeat assessment of the bomb scare. In a 16-paragraph opinion piece, “Bomb threats won’t derail the vital activity of JCCs,” distributed by JTA, Posner devoted only two sentences to the immediate responses to the phone calls. And even then, he was vague: “JCCs handled the situation professionally, taking the advice of security staff and local law enforcement and executing well-rehearsed safety plans. JCCs were able to do this seamlessly, working together with police and reopening by the end of the day.”
We are not suggesting that JCCs tweet their security plans or that day schools should detail on Facebook how to isolate an intruder. But we are saying that the mere invocation of “you’re safe” is not enough. Instead, there are many areas of safety preparation that could be shared without compromising safety protocols. For example, information regarding the frequency with which the staff of a Jewish organization receive security training; the broad situations they prepare for; the broad communication protocol that is followed during safety exercises; and designation of a central spokesperson for the dissemination of timely information would all be helpful additional points to share.
We have no doubt that Jewish institutions are serious about protecting the people inside their doors. Better communication will help get that message out and will help us all feel a bit safer.