Seattle shooting prompts local security reviews
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Seattle shooting prompts local security reviews

Last week’s shooting at the Seattle Jewish federation, in which one woman was killed and five others wounded, has put local Jewish organizations on high alert as they look to re-evaluate their security strategies. (See related story.)

Although the New Jersey office of the Anti-Defamation League said there are no specific threats to Jewish organizations in this state, there is always reason to keep their security strategies up to date. Just before last week’s shooting, the ADL sent out a security advisory to area Jewish groups, asking them to update their security plans or create one if they don’t already have one.

"Most folks by now are aware," said Etzion Neuer, executive director of the New Jersey region, "that events that take place far away can have serious implications locally." After last Friday’s shootings, organizations are scrambling to redevelop their security, but when people feel panicked, it is not the best time to review security plans.

As a result, local Jewish groups, including the UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey, are reaching out to local police to help beef up their security and contingency plans.

"I think every federation here is using what happened in Seattle as an opportunity to re-examine their security," said Jeffrey Maas, executive director of the New Jersey State Association of Jewish Federations.

In ‘005, the Department of Homeland Security handed out $’5 million nationally for nonprofit groups. Of that, $181,000 went to eight institutions in New Jersey, six of which were Jewish, Maas said. The ‘006 allocations have not yet been announced, but Maas hopes that New Jersey will receive more funds.

Howard Charish, executive vice president of UJA-NNJ, met with Capt. Steve Babiak of the Bergen County Police Department on Tuesday to discuss how to increase security at the federation’s building in River Edge. One noticeable immediate change is the security guard now stationed in the building’s lobby.

"At this point there is no specific threat but nevertheless, we have to institute tighter control," Charish said. The federation last updated its emergency plan in May ‘005 and is reviewing it to bring it up to date. What Charish hopes to accomplish is a sense of deterrence.

"Since it’s just happened, all Jewish institutions are on heightened alert," he said. A vigilant staff inside and outside the building is an important part of the organization’s deterrence, he added.

It is essential to have community members on alert and working with security officers, Neuer said. His office reminds synagogues of this during the High Holy Days, when many synagogues hire security guards. While law enforcement personnel may be able to spot suspicious characters, they don’t know the congregations, he said. Community members are more likely to notice something or somebody out of place.

Another area to monitor is how and what the organization advertises publicly. Agencies have to realize that when an ad is placed, it is open to anyone and everyone, Neuer said. "They should make security plans in accordance with the level of publicity," he said.

The Bergen police are in contact with a number of local organizations, Babiak said. He reminds each one that the county police is a supplemental group for services like the bomb squad and local groups should coordinate with their local police departments.

The Seattle shooter was a lone gunman who was allegedly emotionally disturbed, Babiak said, but there is the possibility of copycat crimes.

"If you see something [suspicious], tell some one, don’t just wait," he said.

He also recommends that groups inspect their facilities, especially access points, and make sure the lighting works.

Harold Benus, executive director of the YJCC in Washington Township, said the Y will "take the appropriate cautionary measures," but would not specify those measures. The Y is in close contact with law enforcement authorities, he said, and it has been reviewing the necessary steps to safeguard the people inside the Y as well as the facility itself.

The YM-YWHA of North Jersey in Wayne added a security guard to its facility after convening a security committee, said executive director Larry Traster. The committee will continue to discuss the situation but Traster wants to ease into changes.

"The one thing you don’t want to do is have a knee-jerk reaction," he said. "We’re doing this as a first stage. We will make adjustments accordingly."

At the JCC on the Palisades, security has been a concern for several years. A guard sits in the lobby and police cars patrol nearby. Off-duty police officers are also in the building during the day while campers are present, and the JCC is talking with the Tenafly police about whether it is necessary to bring in additional security.

"It’s important that there’s a visible sign — police cars, police uniforms, security — that’s something we’ve done for a very long time," said Avi Lewinson, the JCC’s executive director.

It is unfortunate that these security reviews only seem to happen after an incident occurs, said Maas. But, he added, security is a constant concern of the Jewish community.

"We are nowhere near what the European Jewish community does to protect its institutions," said Maas. "The [American] Jewish community has certainly realized that this is not the America of the 1950s when you wouldn’t find a synagogue that locked its doors."

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