Responding to deadly attacks in Paris, Mali, and San Bernardino, more than 60 Jewish community leaders attended Active Shooter Survival Strategies, a security workshop held Dec. 15 at the offices of Monmouth County Sheriff Shaun Golden.
The security initiative and December event, both created by the Jewish Federation in the Heart of New Jersey, attracted representatives from 32 Jewish organizations in Monmouth and Middlesex counties.
Organizers said it was part of an overall effort to improve safety throughout the Jewish community. Local law enforcement and the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security are active participants in the federation-led security initiative.
Focusing on active shooter survival strategies, Special Agent Jin Kim, a 20-year veteran of the FBI, emphasized the need for a plan.
Noting that the goal is survival, among many other strategies, the FBI instructor said there are three major options when an active shooter is on the premises — individuals must decide in the moment whether to run, hide, or fight. The key to any of the three actions is preparedness.
Before an incident is even on the radar, anyone who is potentially vulnerable should proactively be thinking about steps he or she would take in case of an attack.
If you’re going to run, Kim said, have a planned escape route and resolve in advance to leave all your belongings behind.
If you cannot get out and must hide, pre-select places where you would be out of a shooter’s view and know how to block entry to your hiding place.
Fighting is the last resort, but if you are left with no other option, think about objects you could use as an improvised weapon — a fire extinguisher, for example.
“We can hope that an active shooter scenario won’t happen to us, but to be unprepared and not take precautions is irresponsible,” said Ken Philmus, federation second vice president and chair of its Security Leadership Committee.
“Hope is not a plan,” said Golden. “I have that reminder displayed on my desk ever since Sandy hit.”
On the same day as the workshop, the Los Angeles school system was shut down in response to an e-mailed threat. Referring to the incident, Monmouth County Prosecutor Christopher J. Gramiccioni said, “The number of active shooter experiences in America is on the rise. For the first seven years following 9/11, we had about seven incidents annually. In the past seven years, the number has spiked to 16.”
Audience members asked about making security compatible with Jewish values and customs. Should synagogues employ a guard? With a gun? On Yom Kippur?
“We have always wanted our sanctuaries to be open and welcoming places,” said Philmus, “but now, given the new normal and the need to balance today’s security concerns, we need to figure out how to do this.”
Philmus urged workshop attendees to act as “force multipliers,” who will go home and tell their families, friends, and colleagues about the need to be aware and prepared — but not scared.
Philmus also asked synagogue and association leaders to reach out to local law enforcement officials and to establish a relationship. “In an emergency, they will be the first responders,” he said.
Federation CEO Keith Krivitzky said that although the workshop was not initially planned in response to recent shooting events, it was moved to an earlier date because of these incidents.
“Security is a huge issue in today’s world, and it is not yet being properly addressed by the Jewish community,” he said. “We believe that federation can play a major role in rectifying the situation.”
The group’s Security Leadership Committee is an important part of the effort, Krivitzky said. “Its members include people with lots of varied expertise. Federation is committed to working with these partners to ensure that every Jewish institution in our area takes security concerns seriously. This would include forming alliances and communications networks among Jewish institutions and with state, county, local, and private partners to share expertise, training, and critical information in a timely way.”
Amy Keller, the federation’s community programs director, said another training workshop is being planned for a Middlesex location, probably in January or February.
“Many attendees asked for more events of a similar nature, featuring specific training, hands-on best practices, and [detailed] ideas for synagogues and sanctuaries,” she said.