Preparedness is essential for security during High Holidays, even outdoors
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OpinionGuest Columnist

Preparedness is essential for security during High Holidays, even outdoors

"While we are acutely aware of the dangers of mass attacks in Pittsburgh, we must remain vigilant but empowered to pursue the celebration of the Jewish faith and traditions."

Shawn Brokos, security director of Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh. (Photo by James Uncapher)
Shawn Brokos, security director of Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh. (Photo by James Uncapher)

Planning and preparation are essential as congregations contemplate hosting outdoor events for the upcoming High Holidays. While we are acutely aware of the dangers of mass attacks in Pittsburgh, we must remain vigilant but empowered to pursue the celebration of the Jewish faith and traditions — whether inside or outside.

There were 34 mass attacks in public spaces in 2019, according to a recently released report from the U.S. Secret Service’s National Threat Assessment Center. Of those 34 attacks, 59% occurred at public sites accessible to the general population such as outdoor venues, restaurants and stores. The remaining 41% occurred at semi-public sites, including schools, workplaces and houses of worship. It is for these very reasons that the below precautions are so vital to on-going holiday planning.

In planning outdoor celebrations during the High Holidays, congregations and other groups are advised to heed the following suggestions.

Pre-event planning. Appoint a safety and security committee to assist with planning and the formation of an emergency operations plan specific to the event. This plan should include emergency evacuation routes and designated lockdown spaces, the appropriate placement of medical equipment and a communications plan in the event of an emergency.

Coordination with law enforcement. Provide law enforcement with details of the event to include date, time, location and number of guests. I already have worked with some organizations on this, but we must continue to be proactive so the police can prepare and staff accordingly. If your congregation has not already taken this step, you may reach out to me for assistance.

Utilize safety and security personnel.
Hire off-duty police officers and armed guards as needed. Utilize volunteer personnel to patrol the perimeter for suspicious activity. Designate several congregants as helpers to assist during emergency situations. Have medical personnel on site if possible.

Conduct appropriate communications and outreach. Consider how the advertising of your event could affect security, especially as it relates to social media. Provide tickets or name tags to those invited so it is clear who the invited guests are. Be prepared to turn away those who are not invited or who have not registered in advance. Communicate these plans with your guests so there are no surprises on the day of the service.

Practice appropriate perimeter control. Secure the perimeter of your space by using controlled entrances. Consider the use of temporary fencing or strategically placed vehicles as perimeter protection. Enforce parking arrangements to prevent traffic and congestion. Seek law enforcement assistance for traffic control if needed. Keep in mind the danger of vehicular assaults.

Practice appropriate access control. Screen guests as they enter to prevent unwanted persons or items from entering or being brought into the location. Staff the entrances to facilitate ease of entry and exit. Distinguish and announce emergency exits to the guests.

Continue safety and security best practices during the event. Active threat drills such as “Run, Hide, Fight” still apply for outdoor events. Just as you would for an indoor event, ensure there are designated evacuation routes and lockdown locations. Have predetermined meeting points if congregants get separated during evacuation. Have your cell phone on your person to call 911 if needed. If your outdoor space is located near a building or residence, inquire about using that location to lockdown and shelter in place if needed.

COVID-19 considerations. Follow local and state regulations on number of guests, social distancing and mask wearing. As of Aug. 28, 2020, local regulations limit outdoor gatherings to 100 people. Do not use security personnel for conducting COVID-19 screening procedures; use volunteers instead. Have clear signage to designate screening areas and procedures.

Planning for the holidays should be a team effort, with congregants willing to help and volunteer as needed to ensure safety and security. Planning is not static; plans may change day by day subject to weather, illness or other unforeseen threats or events. Flexibility is important, and community engagement and effective communication are essential. We owe it to ourselves, our family, friends, and fellow citizens to make this a priority. PJC

Shawn Brokos is the director of community security for the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh. She can be reached at sbrokos@jfedpgh.org.

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