Terror plot raises security awareness at Jewish centers

Last week, two packages containing explosives material were found in air cargo shipments that originated in Yemen. While the incident sparked immediate concerns about the security of air cargo and the need for increased screening measures, it also raised awareness about potential terror targets, as the packages were addressed to synagogues in Chicago.

Though it is believed that these packages may have been intended to blow up in-flight, Richard "Dick" Raisler, director of community-wide security for the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta, said the plot serves as a reminder of the importance of security.

"We use (these types of incidents) to increase training and update and review protocols," he said. "In this case, suspicious packages are what we're honing in on, but in addition to that, you want to look at your evacuation procedures, emergency communication protocols and even media communications protocols."

Holding training exercises during times when terror plots have recently been brought to light increases their effectiveness, according to Raisler, as staff members and others will be operating under a heightened sense of awareness. Raisler also said that it's important for synagogues and other Jewish centers to develop a relationship with their local public safety departments to help verify and relay critical information when an incident occurs.

Raisler said "it's a real life table top" with regards to how security directors can apply lessons learned from incidents like this. "You look at the situation, examine it and do what we call an assessment. That could be a vulnerability assessment, a threat assessment, a risk assessment, or a combination of all three with an eye towards the incidents that are currently happening. Look at what your weaknesses or vulnerabilities are and what you need to do to mitigate that."

"One of the most important things we do is maintain a relationship with our partners in the public safety community," Raisler added. "Remind them that we're here, let them become familiar with our facilities and they can do that by visiting for meetings, conducting training exercises on site and interacting with the management personnel that are there. So, the first time that (the management at the Jewish center or synagogue) deal with that SWAT team commander or zone commander isn't after an incident, but they've dealt with them ahead of time under a more relaxed environment and it opens up the lines of communication."

Whereas past incidents have raised awareness with regards to perimeter security, this most recent plot also demonstrates the importance of having good internal policies and procedures when it comes to threats that can harm an organization via the mail.

"Right now, we're focusing in on suspicious packages, but generally, how do you handle your packages on a day-to-day basis?" Raisler asked. "Where are they received? How are they handled, delivered or documented? More importantly, if you do get a suspicious package, do you know how to communicate that, do you know how to direct your staff, students and visitors how to evacuate if needed?"

Learn more about mailed threats:
Securing the Corporate Mailroom

With regards to evacuation, Raisler added that it's important for organizations to have a reunification process in place so that if an evacuation of a facility is necessary, students and staff members can quickly get in touch with their loved ones to let them know what is happening.

Synagogues and other Jewish centers are not strangers to being a target of terrorism. Last month, four men were convicted of plotting to blow up a synagogue and Jewish center in New York City with cars they believed were packed full of explosives. Last year, 88-year-old James W. von Brunn opened fire with a .22-caliber rifle at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., killing 39-year-old security guard Stephen T. Johns.

"We've always been a target," Raisler said. "This is something that is constantly on our radar."