At the Frontline: Former Secret Service Agent Richard Raisler

Raisler, security director for the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta, discusses security in the wake of the Seattle Jewish Federation shootings


We look at the situation and Seattle, and yes, it's an unfortunate situation, but you have to evaluation your situation based on the information you have of what actually occurred. You have to look at the lessons learned. There were some things that were done well that prevented the incident from being much worse, and then of course, there are things that occurred there that we learned from and that can make security better.

The big thing I've been hearing is that everyone emphasizes the word "vigilance" but as we go through our daily lives, if you go through a period of time where you don't have an incident, you tend to slack off and cut corners. So we've been encouraging everyone to review all of their security policies and procedures that are already in place and make sure that the cutting of corners isn't taking place and that they're following them to the fullest extent of the policy. And then let's look at what we can do to improve security even more.

It's during this time to review security from a budgetary standpoint or the fact that a certain security policy or procedure was discarded because it may have been inconvenient to members of your congregation or your customers. Now (following an incident) is the chance to get those policies and procedures initiated and part of the daily routine at a particular facility or synagogue. So for things that maybe haven't been received well, now is the time when we reintroduce them ... and because of the climate after an incident they may be better received and actually instituted.

What are some things that can be learned from the Seattle incident?

The bottom line is that you look at your perimeters of security. You're trying to control access to your facility whether it is a corporate headquarters or a synagogue or a school. You're trying to cut down on the possibility that someone untoward would gain access to your inner perimeter and get access to your employees, students or congregants and cause them harm. So what can we do to prevent that?

One of the things we're emphasizing now is to extend those perimeters so we deal with that threat as far away as possible from the people or things you're trying to protect. In Seattle, one of the lessons to be learned is that they just had one perimeter of security. They had one door that was access controlled and that access control was defeated. The facts are still out whether the perpetrator watched the code being punched in or just overpowered the young lady and forced her to put her code in, but having just one perimeter of security, then once that was defeated, he had access.

We're emphasizing multiple layers of security, whether it be conducting vehicle checkpoints at the perimeter at a vehicle gate, or using multiple levels of access control, from the entrance to the building to the inner sanctums of your offices. We need to have more than one layer of security. That's one thing we learned there [in Seattle] and that's what we're trying to emphasize with our agencies and synagogues now.

If you just look at the size of the community, and the activity, the history there, it doesn't compare to some of the larger Jewish communities that have had multiple incidents in the past, so it just emphasizes the fact that you have to be vigilant everywhere, whether you're in a remote area of the country where you think this type of incident wouldn't occur. Of course we seen events in New York City and some of the other largest U.S. cities, but Seattle was remote in that respect. So, it just shows that you have to be vigilant everywhere, all the time.

Does the Seattle incident shed light on weaknesses of the risk assessments in terms of being able to plan for all types of incidents?

One thing I learned in the Secret Service is that there's no such thing as 100 percent security. In the world we live in, in the United States, we're very "open". So again, I go back to that statement that we're just trying to cut down the odds. And there are a number of things in the Seattle area that did that. For example, we have to consider how much information we provide about who we are and what we do, but at the same time providing enough information, so it's a delicate balance of security versus openness.