In recent years, we’ve seen an increase in acts of anti-Semitic and violent hate-crime directed at the Jewish community. This is true both worldwide and in North America, where in recent years we’ve seen multiple shooting and stabbing attacks directed at Jewish institutions. As a result, there has been a concerted effort to address security on both a national and local level. These security upgrades have been focused on community organizations such as shuls and schools, which are central to Jewish life, and where the risk of a potential (terror) attack is high. Such upgrades have included security infrastructure, training and the updating of emergency protocols and procedures.
For the past two months, most, if not all, of these facilities have been closed, in line with government and community directives to address COVID-19. By closing shuls and schools, the community has helped to “flatten the curve” and stop the spread of the coronavirus. The likelihood of a terror attack directed at a community organization diminished, simply because these buildings are closed and shuttered. The community has not been congregating; the types of threats that need to be protected against have changed. As a result, the focus of security has shifted from protecting congregants and students to safeguarding the premises and addressing cybercrime.
Even during these trying times, as community facilities sit empty and shuttered, there have been numerous incidents of anti-Semitism: vandalism, break-ins, assault and “zoombombing,” targeting schools, shuls, Jewish businesses and community organizations, as well as individuals. While the focus of security has shifted, the threat facing Jews and Jewish institutions has not dissipated, and steps have been taken to ensure that these types of incidents are addressed and mitigated.
As societal restrictions are lifted, and our communities return to our shuls and schools, the focus must shift back towards protecting the community, and ensuring that community organizations can reopen and provide adequate protection for building staff, congregants, students and visitors.
That said, as we are encouraged to maintain social distancing and limit our community interactions, the way in which we must protect these facilities has changed. There is a need to reexamine the threat each organization — and in fact each individual community — faces, to assess whether the security measures in place can still be utilized to address those threats and to prevent an attack or another security incident.
Security measures are implemented to mitigate potential risk. But there is no one-size-fits-all. As risk differs from organization to organization, the type of measures might differ. Similarly, even if the same threat exists, the way in which one organization addresses the risk can — and likely will — differ from another. This might be due to the ability of the organization to address the threat, the available budget, the geographic location, whether or not the organization has a security committee or security volunteers, the degree of inconvenience the organization is willing to endure, the ethos of the organizations, local laws, and a myriad of other factors.
Regardless, certain concepts form the basis of every security solution. To prevent against an active attacker, this includes limiting building or premises access; ensuring that staff, congregants and visitors understand how to respond to an emergency; and the installation of security measures that can prevent — or mitigate the damage caused by — an attack.
In order to limit building access, an organization might limit the number of entrances in use, install bollards along the building perimeter or engage locking mechanisms on external doors.
To ensure building occupants are able to respond to an emergency, there might be a need for clear protocols and procedures, and staff might undergo training.
To prevent or respond to an attack, an organization might utilize surveillance cameras, an access control system, panic buttons, window blinds or even firearms.
But to address an organization’s security needs, the potential effectiveness of each security measure must be examined to ensure that it addresses the threat that faces that organization.
In light of COVID-19 and the threat to public health that still exists — as well as the fear of a resurgence or second wave of the coronavirus — existing security measures may no longer be effective. For example, whereas prior to the pandemic an organization might have limited building access to one entry point in order to better control the environment, that same organization might now open two or even multiple entrances in order for building occupants to maintain social distancing. Doing so might entail a need for (additional) security personnel. Similarly, those security personnel might find it more difficult to identify a suspicious individual, as many people will be wearing masks for the foreseeable future.
If organizations were to move activities such as minyanim or classes outdoors, they might face a difficulty in establishing a perimeter and ensuring that only authorized persons take part in these activities. Moreover, whereas prior to the pandemic the greater threat might have been a shooter gaining access to the building, the threat now might be from a drive-by shooting or a car ramming. And whereas the way to address an active-attacker scenario might have been to lock down various areas of the building, in this new reality — as the attacker might not now need to gain access to the building — the focus might now be on an evacuation as opposed to a lockdown. This would itself necessitate updating protocols and procedures so that the correct action can be implemented.
The examples are just some of the considerations for addressing security in the post-COVID world. The new reality dictates that we must strive to protect our community by taking a holistic approach to security; by understanding that we must adapt, and, where necessary, devise new ways of preparedness and risk mitigation.