At the Frontline: Former Secret Service Agent Richard Raisler

Aug. 8, 2006
Raisler, security director for the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta, discusses security in the wake of the Seattle Jewish Federation shootings

On Friday, July 28, 2006, a lone gunman forced his way into the offices of the Jewish Federation of Seattle, a charity arm of the local Jewish community. By the time the incident ended and the gunman was arrested, one woman was dead and many others were injured. The incident raised questions about office security and how employees can be protected.

The incident, allegedly conducted by a Muslim American acting in a lone capacity, explains the predicament of the Jewish community around the world. But according to Richard "Dick" Raisler, who heads up security for the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta, there are lessons to be learned that can shape your own security program.

Raisler, an ASIS member, brings a 27-year background with the United States Secret Service to his position as the director of community-wide security for the JFGA. In this "At the Frontline" interview, Raisler shares with the community his insights on the Seattle event and how it's shaping security at a similar federation in Atlanta. Even more of Raisler's interview, including discussions on securing schools and houses of worship, will appear in the October issue of Security Technology & Design as the "Back Page" interview. For those of us not familiar with what these Jewish Federations are, do you mind giving us a quick overview?

Raisler: The Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta (JFGA) operates under the United Jewish Community's umbrella which oversees over 150 federations in North America. Our job is to raise money and give it away. A certain percentage stays in the community and it includes schools, service organizations, family and career services, senior citizens' homes, the American-Israel Chamber of Commerce and some Jewish community centers.

The synagogues are not affiliated agencies, but in a reach-out program we have going here we're trying to integrate the Jewish community, and of course, a very good way to get in touch with people in the community is through their synagogues.

What are your day-to-day duties in security for the JFGA?

My position is director of community wide security for the federation, and to act as a resource or as a consultant to members of the community regarding their security concerns.

We do assessments of needs, based on what the vulnerabilities are, and then make recommendations as to policies, procedures, equipment and technology that they can use to mitigate their vulnerabilities

Another large part of that job is to serve as a conduit to provide them an opportunity to liaison with their public safety entities in their arrange meeting between their lay leaders and the law enforcement community to let them talk about procedures, let them become actually familiar with the facility and property in a particular jurisdiction and to let the administrators or the management group, in case their involved in an emergency or an incident, so they have previous contact with the law enforcement supervisors so the first time they meet isn't under the heat of fire.

A lot of what I did in the Secret Service, major event planning, security assessments, threat investigations, background investigations -- all of those things that I did and learned as a Secret Service agent I've been able to put to good use here in this position with the Federation.

How does the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta use information on what's happening in Seattle and around the world to shape its own security policy?

One of the unique things about this community, and one of the things that I enjoy about being a security professional there is that they are security conscious all the time. But obviously when you have the events in the Middle East and a the spike of interest following an event like we had in Seattle, security goes to the forefront of everybody's thinking, and they use it as a time to re-evaluate their own situation and look at individual security at all the different locations of the agencies and synagogues we have here in Atlanta.

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.

Risk assessments give you an overview of what your vulnerabilities are, but if you're dealing with a lone wolf as they call the perpetrator in Seattle, it's much more difficult to gain intelligence and prevent that attack through prior warning. So what you have in place has to protect you - as opposed to an organized attack where you have better probability of picking up intelligence and being able to raise your threat level and heighten your security to counteract that.

I definitely believe in risk assessments, and included in that assessment process is the question of what do you do if an incident does occur. The after-action is something that the Secret Service has always emphasized. What protocols do you have in place to deal with an emergency? For example, one of the lessons learned from this situation is to have a good, solid Secure-in-Place protocol. In other words, if you don't have a chance to evacuate before the incident occurs, then what is the appropriate thing to do after it begins to cut down your odds that you'll be negatively impacted by that situation?