Jewish institutions prepare for threats

NEW YORK, Aug. 3 (JTA) — With financial institutions in New York and Washington rattled by a reported Al-Qaida threat, Jewish groups are continuing to craft long-term responses to a variety of potential threats. But except for the World Jewish Congress — which issued security alerts to Jewish communities worldwide — most Jewish groups said Sunday’s warning that Al-Qaida had threatened some major U.S. financial institutions didn’t affect their already high state of alert. “I’m not detecting any panic or any alarm” as a result of the recent warnings, said Betty Ehrenberg, director of international and communal affairs for the Orthodox Union, whose office is located in New York City’s financial district. “We stay alert and we’re fully aware that Jewish institutions have been designated targets by terrorists, but we’re not trying to act alarmed or be alarmed and doing our best to go about our daily business,” she said. Instead, Jewish groups are turning their attention to general emergency preparedness for the long haul. A 200-plus-page manual called “Emergency Planning: Disaster and Crisis Response Systems for Jewish Organizations” aims to give them a good start. The manual, which will be officially released in the next few weeks, provides tips for dealing with disasters from floods to terrorism, and asks groups to plan according to their individual risks. The document was produced by the United Jewish Communities, the coordinating body for the North American Jewish federation system, and the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York, which contracted the John Jay College of Criminal Justice to aid in the effort. The manual was written in partnership with the Anti-Defamation League, which has authored its own guide on securing Jewish institutions against hate crimes, and which authored one section of the emergency guide. The manual aims to be a “catalyst to action,” said Barry Swartz, who staffs the UJC’s emergency committee. “We want to impress upon local institutions and organizations the need for them to develop an emergency plan,” he said. The manual comes as Jewish institutions have worked to fortify their facilities following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. It also comes after recent passage of a bill in the U.S. Senate that would provide federal aid to secure religious sites, a balm to many Jewish groups facing heavy security costs. The manual will accompany another national Jewish communal security initiative — the SCAN emergency network recently put in place by the UJC and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. The network operates through an outside firm, which would notify Jewish communities about threats by contacting organizational officials by cell phone or beeper. Producers of the new manual stress that it goes beyond the threat of terrorism. The manual stresses that “man-made disasters are far less likely than natural ones. Tornadoes, blackouts, fires and even water-main breaks occur on a regular basis. So do micro-events such as layoffs, a sexual harassment charge or the death of a beloved teacher. Any one of these can have a detrimental impact on your organization.” The goal is for local federations or their community relations councils to use the manual to train local groups. David Pollock, associate executive director of the JCRC of New York and the lead author of the manual, has conducted training sessions with schools and synagogues in the New York area over the past two years. Now he is starting to share pieces of the manual, which he says makes emergency planning easier. Intended to equip groups with emergency preparedness, response and recovery, the manual includes a host of tips in user-friendly language. It contains sections on risk analysis and management, hypothetical situations for discussing emergency strategy, flow-charts and checklists for emergency response, and ideas for drills. In the case of an in-house lockdown, the guide lists the ingredients needed — plastic sheeting and duct tape — to help secure a room against biochemical agents, and says that “when a sheltering-in-place order is given, it should be given in ‘plain English.’ Do not use codes!” It also offers pricing estimates for hiring security personnel, information on “go kits” — grab bags of valuables that employees should have on hand to take quickly before exiting the building — a glossary of emergency terms, tips for preserving documents and links to other sources of emergency response information. In addition to sharing life-saving strategies, the manual “provides a mechanism to plan for business continuity,” Pollock said. Planning for post-disaster strategy is as important as prevention, said Richard Raisler, director of community-wide security for the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta and a retired U.S. Secret Service agent. Raisler, who has seen sections of the manual, thought it would aid local federations’ emergency committees, many of which are comprised of lay leaders without professional security experience. He praised “anything to facilitate planning and training that goes beyond the basic security that’s already in place.” Barbara Kessel, director of administration for the Board of Jewish Education of Greater New York, also lauded the manual. “It covers all kinds of situations that can in fact occur in a school, and the truth is no matter how many times you give thought to different situations, you really do need to have a document in hand that you can refer to because in the midst of chaos not everything comes to mind,” she said. “So you need checklists and you need constantly updated information, which is what this document encourages you to do.”

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