A bomb threat forced a two-hour evacuation of the JCC MetroWest on Monday, Dec. 4.
West Orange police notified Alan Feldman, executive director of the JCC, shortly after 10 a.m.
They were soon followed by several emergency squad officers wearing protective gear, and later, by three bomb-sniffing dogs and their handlers from the Newark Police Department.
More than 200 children, ranging in age from infants and toddlers in the JCC’s Kid Care babysitting program to five-year-olds in pre-school, were taken next door to facilities at the Jewish Community Housing Corporation.
Shortly after noon, police gave an “all clear” sign and people were allowed to return. At 12:27 p.m., JCC members were notified by email that the building had reopened.
“Everyone was evacuated from the building,” said Feldman. “We have an emergency evacuation plan for all of our children. Everyone else left the building as in a fire procedure.”
According to Feldman, “we pretty much had a calm populace of people exiting the building,” noting that some people left the facilities’ health club wearing gym clothes, towels, and bathing suits. “We were fortunate that it was a nice day and even more fortunate that it was a safe situation for everybody.”
Almost simultaneously, a second bomb threat was issued at the Roosevelt Middle School, a public school in West Orange two and a half miles away.
A spokesperson for the West Orange police said “the matter is under investigation.”
The JCC alerted its members via email about the evacuation shortly after 11 a.m., alluding only to an “emergency situation.” Recipients seeking more information were urged to call a phone number, which in turn provided no details of the situation.
On Facebook and via email, meanwhile, conversations and speculation quickly sprung up about the nature of the “emergency.”
“We were in the middle of an emergency and we had a responsibility to notify our parents that something had gone on with their kids,” Feldman explained. “In today’s world they all knew about it from Facebook and text messaging before we were able to get to them. That is what the email was about. In terms of the phone number, it could have been a problem with the phone system. It was something we had to do remotely because we were not allowed in the building while the bomb-sniffing dogs were here.”
Melissa Allen, the JCC’s director of marketing, said the center has not had a bomb threat since in at least 20 years.
“We have a very close relationship with the FBI, Homeland Security, and the West Orange police,” said Feldman. “Since the recent events in Israel, the West Orange police have increased their presence here, and what happened today will have them increase their patrol presence even further. That gives me and others a great deal of confidence in our safety.”
Allen, whose children attend JCC afterschool programs, added, “I have a sense of security that they will be safe. We are OK here.”