“It Can’t Happen Here, Can It?” Now Is The Time To Assess Your Jewish Institution’s Safety And Security Protocols

By Elliot B. Karp and Wayne Black

The recent murderous terrorist attacks at the Chabad Synagogue in Poway and Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh have, together with the alarming rise of virulently anti-Semitic hate groups, messages and attacks on Jewish individuals have caused Jewish community leadership to re-think the safety of their members and staff; as well as the security of their facilities. While we want our institutions to remain open and welcoming we must insure the safety of our people and security of our facilities. Security measures require continuous review and updating. When violence strikes a specific Jewish community it affects all communities. Professional and volunteer leadership need to take the time following any incident to evaluate procedures both on their own and with the assistance of local law enforcement and security consultants.

Based on our years of experience in law enforcement, security and Jewish communal work we hope to raise awareness in order to avoid a tragic situation at your Jewish institution. We have collaborated to provide some guidelines on security issues you should consider as you evaluate your own security policies and arrangements.

Some of the items listed below are costly (gates, fencing, cameras, etc.), while others can be easily implemented at little or no cost. Rather than starting with a fixed budgeted number for security enhancements, you should determine your organization’s most urgent needs and then find a way to obtain the funds to address them. Future plans for security improvements may be more costly and require a finance plan. Recognize that security is always costly and a work in progress.

These guidelines are not listed in any priority order. They are for your consideration and for you to prioritize for your individual organization.

Assessment Checklist

  • Do you have a written lockdown plan for such events as active shooters, bomb threats, trespassers, and similar threats? Has your staff drilled the plan? You want to drill to develop “muscle memory” for each individual’s responsibility in the event of an emergency. Consider inviting law enforcement so they can see your facility, meet your employees, and offer honest feedback. At some point, you should consider drilling with members or children of an appropriate age to practice drills with your staff.
  • Is there an emergency chart guide in plain sight in every room that covers lockdown and emergency procedures (strangers, fire drills, emergency procedures, severe weather, etc.)? You want employees and visitors to be able grab a copy of your security procedures quickly to know what to do in the event of an emergency.
  • Do you remind your community ( members, parents, students, employees) to immediately report suspicious behavior both to you and local law enforcement? Do you ask members to be aware of other members’ activities on social media and to report concerns with guns, threats or other threatening activities?
  • Have you made clear that any threat or comment about acts of violence will be taken seriously, even if the comment was made in jest? Your members should clearly understand that, just like at the airport, there is no room in your Jewish agency for any type of comment, behavior, post, text that presents a threat.
  • Do you have appropriate policies that permit you to search bags, backpacks, computers, iPads, phones, vehicles, or any other personal items, and any place on your property? Have you considered requiring clear backpacks so everyone can see the contents at a glance?
  • Do classrooms properly lock from the inside? Do you have shades to cover both external and internal windows so that no one can see in to rooms during a crisis? Have you practiced and had timed locking drills? From the time you call a lockdown, do you know how long it takes for the facility to be locked down? Many organizations start out with a 12-minute process and, with practice drills, get the timing down to 3-4 minutes. It could save lives.
  • Do you have a closed facility? Is it fenced (first layer of your layered security)? Are there limited “manned” or “access controlled” entrances, doors or gates as a second layer of security?
  • Do buildings have limited and controlled points of entry and exit (choke points) as a third layer of security? Are doors locked against entry from the outside? Any open door should be monitored by an actual person. You should not have the doors open or unlocked even for drop-off and pickup. It might inconvenience members at the end of the day, but it may save lives.
  • Have you had a threat assessment in the last year? This can be done by local law enforcement or an outside security consultant. You should understand that if you ask law enforcement to do the assessment, any written report will be subject to discovery. If you do it through a consultant hired by your attorney, the report will fall under attorney-client privilege and is not subject to discovery.
  • Do you engage off-duty police officers or armed private security? Full-time? Part-time? When children are present? On Shabbat and Jewish holidays? Special events? Do you have uniform criteria for determining the deployment of security personnel? Do you know your state law on armed personnel on your property? Are your armed private security personnel getting regular qualification training?
  • Is your facility swept for mysterious objects each morning? When the building is opened in the morning, is anyone assigned to look for boxes, backpacks, bags, etc. that someone may have deposited?
  • Is someone assigned to properly lock the building at the end of each day and to re-verify the locking of all doors?
  • Is there a control process for access devices (keys, key cards/fobs, pass cards, etc.)? Do you keep a log of who has what key or access device? Are metal keys left at school or do employees take them home?
  • Have you met with your local area first responders? Have you had regular meetings with them? This will give first responders a chance to know you and your facility. Invite them to train at your facility. Make a point to do acts of Chesed with first responders, i.e. bring them left-over food from events; cookies on holidays or an occasional meal or snack.
  • Have your provided first responders with up-to-date floor plans of your building? Are floors plans kept in an easily accessible area of your office? Is your building numbered large enough for first responders to see from both the street and air? Important tip: if you have not placed your street address on your roof consider doing so that law enforcement utilizing a helicopter or drone can easily identify your facility.
  • *Have there been prior incidents or security breaches at your organization or other nearby Jewish institutions? Have you audited these incidents to analyze what happened and the response?
  • * Do you have proper CCTV coverage and a video management system (VMS)? Is the system inspected regularly to ensure that time and date generators are accurate? Are you recording on motion or dead space (which impacts volume of recording stored in memory)? Can you retain video for 30-90 days? Do you have onsite or remote storage?
  • * Do all personnel have portable radios to immediately communicate with the office and/or security personnel in the event of an emergency? You can purchase inexpensive “point-to-point” radios for approximately $15 each. Consider a Smartphone application that enables you to employ emergency alert capabilities for staff and members.
  • * Do you have cameras throughout your facility, i.e. sanctuary, offices, kitchen, classrooms and hallways? Are they on a closed system? Are you certain that only personnel can access them internally and from the internet?
  • Do you have hurricane windows or other barriers? Have you invested in “bullet resistant” or shatterproof glass?
  • Do you have bollards to prevent vehicle intrusion over the sidewalk and into the facility? Even stopping a vehicle for a few moments can make a difference.
  • Do students and staff feel safe? Are there regular meetings regarding security and safety? Are you asking for community input?
  • Is your staff trained and certified for first aid, CPR and the use of AED? Is training offered to members?
  • Do you have AEDs? Do you have trauma kits (distinct from first aid kits) with tourniquets, airways, pressure bandages, etc.? Does your room chart reflect where these items are located? Do you have a general emergency kit (for power outages due to stormy weather, etc.) that includes flashlights, battery powered radio, candles, etc.
  • Do you have a visitor management system, like Raptor, that requires all visitors to tender their driver’s license so security can run it for open arrests and against the sex offender list?
  • Should you have metal detectors? Although metal detectors (for people and packages) are utilized in airports and courthouses they are incredibly expensive, difficult to calibrate, and require at least two people to operate. You could consider a package-only metal detector that is less expensive and only requires one trained person to operate as well as “hand held” wands for screening.


These guidelines are a good starting point for any Jewish institution to begin a discussion with leadership, staff, local law enforcement and security teams about what may be missing from your plans and where you can obtain additional information or assistance. Take the time to absorb and consider all options to determine what steps may be best for your facility, members and staff.

Elliot B. Karp has been a Jewish communal professional for nearly 40 years; and is the former CEO of the Jewish Federation of Las Vegas and Executive Director of the Aventura Turnberry Jewish Center. He has extensive experience in developing, implementing and evaluating security arrangements for Jewish communities and institutions. He can be reached at ebkarp@gmail.com.

Wayne Black is a security expert and consultant. His company, Wayne Black & Associates, handles executive protection, security and investigations for high profile clients. Some of those clients including churches, synagogues, JCC’s and other nonprofits who now face security threats. He is a former law enforcement officer with extensive experience in intelligence, counterterrorism, institutional and personal security preparedness. He can be reached at wbb@wbgroup.us.