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Homeland Security runs threat response exercise with Jewish leaders

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WASHINGTON (JTA) — About 50 high-ranking federal and state law enforcement officials met with an equal number of leading American Jewish officials for their first “table top” threat exercise.

The Joint Department of Homeland Security-American Jewish Community Table Top Exercise, held Wednesday at an unnamed location in Rosslyn, Va., was designed to identify gaps in information sharing, to share best practices and to push security concerns throughout the American Jewish community.

“This was not just another briefing,” Paul Goldenberg, national director of the Jewish Federations of North America’s Secure Community Network, told JTA. “This milestone event was to have the highest level national leaders together in a room for five hours with senior Jewish leaders so we know going out of that room what we need to know what to do to go forward.”

The program began with a current threat assessment by government officials and then simulated potential threats. Participants in an amphitheater-style room watched law enforcement coordinate responses to two scenarios: multiple attacks on Israeli and Jewish communities throughout the Diaspora, and on Jewish institutions in the United States.

“I’ve got to tell you, it didn’t take much prodding to get questions,” William Flynn, the Department of Homeland Security’s deputy assistant secretary of infrastructure protection, told JTA. “This was a very engaged group and a very well-informed group that asked some very, very good and serious questions, and posed some important issues.”

The Department of Homeland Security has helped coordinate security in recent months at the Maccabi Games in Houston, New York and Memphis, Tenn., he added. 

“This was an effort to pull it all together and take a look at the best practices that we’ve identified and any potential gaps that might be there, particularly in how we share information accurately and in actionable ways,” Flynn said. 

Goldenberg added, “These leaders walked out saying I gotta go back to my constituents and my agencies, and I now have a much better idea of what I need to do to secure my community because it’s not just securing a building but a community. It’s not about panic and it’s not about fear. It’s about partnership” with law enforcement agencies.

Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, who participated in the exercise, said in a statement, “Our partnership with organizations and leaders of faith communities has helped, and continues to help, communities across the country prepare for threats that may originate either within our borders or abroad.”

Other participants included Rand Beers, undersecretary for the Department of Homeland Security, National Protection and Programs; Jerry Silverman, Jewish Federations of North America president and CEO; and representatives from the FBI and the State Department.

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