Experts Call For Active-Shooter Drills Here In Wake Of Paris
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Experts Call For Active-Shooter Drills Here In Wake Of Paris

Local Jewish institutions ramping up security. ‘This threat is not going away.’

Hannah Dreyfus is a staff writer at the New York Jewish Week. She covers abuses of power in non-profit and religious settings. She heads up the Investigative Journalism Fund, an initiative to fill a gap in investigative and enterprise reporting. Reach her at hannah@jewishweek.org

As 5,000 French police and soldiers fanned out across the country to protect hundreds of Jewish institutions in the wake of last week’s attack at a Paris kosher supermarket, Jewish leaders here scrambled to assess security protocols and ramp up security measures.

In the days since Friday’s attack on the Hyper Cacher kosher market in Paris, which killed four Jews shopping for Shabbat, leaders here have convened emergency security briefings and been in contact with the New York Police Department. And, in a sign of the seriousness of the security threat, some have even suggested exercises on how to respond to an active shooter inside a synagogue or JCC.

The NYPD has extra officers at high-profile Jewish sites, Mayor Bill de Blasio told reporters Monday. “If there’s an attack on a Jewish target anywhere in the world, we reinforce and support major Jewish community locations instantaneously throughout this city,” he said.

Rabbi Arthur Schneier, senior rabbi at Park East Synagogue, addressed the tragedy at length in his Saturday morning sermon. Though the synagogue neighbors the NYPD’s 19th Precinct on East 67th Street, the shul has “spent a considerable expense” to augment its security system in the days since the attack, Rabbi Schneier told The Jewish Week. “We cannot rely on police alone. We don’t want congregants to be afraid to come to synagogue, and they should not be.”

Shabbat services at Park East Synagogue were packed Friday night, as many turned out to find solace in the hours after the attack, according to Rabbi Schneier. All entrances to the high-profile synagogue were flanked by security guards.

“What occurred in France is a paradigm change,” said Paul Goldenberg, director of the Secure Community Network, the homeland security initiative of The Jewish Federations of North America. “These are not lone-wolf attacks,” he said, referring both to the attack on the Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine, which killed 12, and at the Hyper Cacher kosher supermarket, where four hostages died. “Well-established affiliates of terrorism are seeking to disrupt Western nations, and local Jewish populations are caught in the crosshairs.”

Goldenberg, who was in Paris when the attack took place, suggested all Jewish institutions in New York review best practices and practice how to respond to an active shooter or suspicious person.

“It’s too late when an individual has already entered a building firing shots to determine what to do,” said Goldenberg, who attended the European Jewish Security Summit in Brussels days after the attack. “You can have all the technology in the world, but unless people know how to behave when something happens, an attack could be fatal,” he said.

The NYPD told The Jewish Week that a detective stationed in Paris has been coordinating with police officers here in order to continue monitoring the situation.

John Miller, the NYPD’s deputy commissioner of intelligence and counterterrorism wrote via email: “New York City has the most sophisticated counterterrorism capability in the U.S. There are standing contingency plans in place to adjust police deployments based on any unfolding situation in the world. That includes how we use and where we position and deploy specialized police resources.”

According to Rabbi Shaul Robinson, senior rabbi of Lincoln Square Synagogue on the Upper West Side, the NYPD has been proactive about ramping-up security after the Paris attack.

At a memorial service for the terror victims on Sunday night attended by more than 800 people, according to the shul, the synagogue’s security team partnered with the NYPD and community volunteers to ensure safety.

“There is always someone stationed outside the synagogue,” said Rabbi Robinson. “Safety will only become more of a priority after this.” He declined to detail other augmented security precautions because of safety concerns.

Immediately after the attacks, the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York posted safety recommendations for New York’s Jewish institutions on its website. The bullet-pointed emergency notice recommended training sessions with law enforcement and Homeland Security leaders, reporting suspicious activities, and preparing for an active-shooter situation.

David Pollock, the council’s director of public policy and security said JCRC is planning to work with the NYPD to ramp up active shooter-training sessions at Jewish schools and camps. The NYPD is “very sensitive” to the reality that Jewish communal institutions are targets, he said.

“We will continue to do what we have done in the past: make sure people are prepared as possible for any given situation,” Pollock said. “The most important thing learned from all of this is that institutions need to have a policy in order to prevent unauthorized personnel from entering a premises.”

Anticipating security concerns, the Simon Wiesenthal Center in cooperation with the New York Board of Rabbis held a dial-in emergency briefing on Sunday, with Shimon Samuels, director for international relations at the Wiesenthal Center in Paris. According to Rabbi Steven Burg, eastern director of the Wiesenthal Center, hundreds called in.

“There’s a sense that this threat is not going away,” said Rabbi Burg. “Aside from a deep concern for our European brethren, people in America are becoming more serious about these threats.” He declined to provide further details about how the Wiesenthal Center, located on East 42nd Street, has bolstered security out of safety concerns, but said they are in touch with local law enforcement.

“We encourage all New York Jewish institutions to reach out to local law enforcement,” said Rabbi Burg. “It didn’t used to be the norm to have security guards in front of Jewish day schools. Now, it’s an imperative.”

Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, executive vice president of the New York Board of Rabbis, partnered with Rabbi Burg on the emergency briefing.

“This is not the first time we’ve experienced heightened security concerns,” he said. “We’ve encouraged communal leaders to be in conversation with their constituents. If more needs to be done to fortify security, now’s the time,” he said, citing the installation of surveillance cameras in synagogues as a priority.

Rabbi Potasnik also warned Jewish communities against complacency after the immediate scare from the attack ebbs.

“We tend to get comfortable when nothing goes wrong. But when we’re lax, we’re most vulnerable. At this stage, we cannot afford to lower our security consciousness,” he said.

In response to the Paris attacks, the Anti-Defamation League sent out a national security advisory last Friday detailing “action steps” for local Jewish institutions. Reporting suspicious packages, checking that security devices are in good condition, and reviewing the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s guide to responding to an active shooter were among the pointers.

The last time a security advisory like this was sent was after the April 2014 Jewish community center shooting in Kansas City, said Evan Bernstein, the ADL’s New York regional director.

“We’re stepping up vigilance at this time,” said Bernstein. “The particular vulnerability of the Jewish community in New York needs to be taken seriously.”

At Sutton Place Synagogue, a large Conservative congregation on the East Side, security is being taken seriously. But in addition to security guards and cameras, Rabbi Rachel Ain, the congregation’s leader, feels the spiritual fortification of her congregants is key.

“People came Friday night to find solace,” said Rabbi Ain. “At a time like this, when we fear for our safety and security, it’s important to reflect on our emotional needs as well.”

During a particularly crowded Friday night service, Rabbi Ain read aloud a poem written by one of her colleagues for the Jews of Paris.

“Dear God. This hurt we know too well/ has taught us to stand strong through our pain/We will not cease our prayers,” the poem read. “May this broken world of ours/See no more of this.”

hannah@jewishweek.org

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