A police officer stands guard outside Temple Sinai, a synagogue just a half-mile away from the Tree of Life in Pittsburgh, the site of a mass shooting on Oct. 27, 2018. (Photo/JTA-Jeff Swensen-Getty Images)
A police officer stands guard outside Temple Sinai, a synagogue just a half-mile away from the Tree of Life in Pittsburgh, the site of a mass shooting on Oct. 27, 2018. (Photo/JTA-Jeff Swensen-Getty Images)

How we’re working to prevent another synagogue shooting

Nearly 11 months ago, amid an increase in hate crimes and anti-Semitic incidents, the Jewish community suffered the deadliest targeted attack on our community in the history of the United States with the loss of 11 individuals in Pittsburgh. Exactly six months later, another attack occurred in Poway, California.

Think another attack won’t happen? The threat facing the Jewish community is real, so we must act to protect our families and neighbors. Just as Israel has an Iron Dome missile-defense system to keep its people safe, the Bay Area Jewish community needs a security shield so we can be safe.

As the official security arm of the Jewish Federations of North America and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, the Secure Community Network is working with and supporting the Jewish Community Federation to build that shield. That’s why SCN and its experts have been conducting trainings throughout the Bay Area this week.

SCN is a team of current and former military, law enforcement and homeland security experts. We are not volunteers. We are not private consultants. We are professionals dedicated to serving and protecting the Jewish community.

We are grateful to the Federation’s chief executive officer, Danny Grossman, its board of directors and the leadership of local synagogues and schools for their vision, leadership and efforts to prioritize safety and security. Here’s what we’re doing to keep the Jewish community in the Bay Area safe.

SCN is committed to ensuring that all members of the community have the resources they need to protect themselves. We leverage SCN’s expertise and the Federation’s knowledge of our community to assess, improve and deploy a comprehensive security strategy. We call this AID.

Assess: The first thing we will do when visiting any community is assess the physical structures. Many locations, especially synagogues, are designed to be welcoming, and this provides a challenge: How do we balance being welcoming with being safe and secure? Are there numerous doors that allow guests inside? Is parking right next to the building? Are windows shatterproof? Who oversees security — lay leaders or professionals? Is there a good security plan?


RELATED: The new normal? Bay Area synagogues rethink security


Improve: Where weaknesses exist, improvements must be made. It’s not hard to lock all doors except for one main entry, or to hold active-shooter drills that teach leaders and congregants what to in case of an attack. A common weakness we find is that leaders think they have a security plan, but they really don’t. It may be weak. It may be old. It may never be practiced, or it was practiced so long ago that the people who took part don’t work or pray in the synagogue anymore. Security is a nitty-gritty business. It constantly needs to be worked on, updated, drilled and improved. We are consistently working with local organizations to plan and drill for emergencies.

Deploy: Our team of military, security and law enforcement experts was created to be deployed into communities to support the work of Federations in the training, planning and thinking necessary to help communities prevent attacks, or to provide those resources where there is no robust security program. We recognize the sensitivities and concerns that every organization — whether a synagogue, Jewish day school or others — has about security issues.

We work closely with the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security and joint terrorism task forces as well as state and local law enforcement to coordinate and share information. Our partners in law enforcement and government are keenly aware of the unique threat faced by the Jewish community. They want our input and they share information. We also coordinate with government officials closely during threats and incidents, as we did in Pittsburgh and Poway.

Over the last 11 months, two armed gunmen stormed into two temples, killing 12 and injuring many. This is a call to action. We know threats exist. We also know preparation and prevention are the keys to minimizing or eliminating future attacks.

For thousands of years, the Jewish people have been threatened, but proudly, we survive — and thrive. Our mission is to allow parents, children, congregants, seniors, rabbis, ushers and staff to be able to worship, celebrate and be together in peace, knowing those with knowledge and expertise have worked to address security issues, build a plan and implement it, all designed to create the shield our community needs.

Michael Masters

Michael Masters is the national director and CEO of the Secure Community Network. He is a certified police officer who has served on task forces for the Department of Homeland Security.