Agencies learn ABCs in facing emergencies

Does your synagogue have an accessible and up-to-date emergency evacuation plan? What are some of the biggest security concerns facing the Jewish community? And by the way, could you recognize a picture of your local police chief in a line-up?

These were some of the issues — both esoteric and immediate — addressed in a five-hour-long symposium conducted recently under the auspices of the San Francisco Jewish Community Relations Council and the Anti-Defamation League.

In what organizers billed as a "first-of-its-kind" program, representatives from a gamut of local and federal law enforcement and emergency service agencies fielded questions and concerns from more than 300 members of the Jewish community.

The event, held last week at San Francisco's Ritz Carlton Hotel, featured representatives from the San Francisco Police and Fire Departments, the FBI and the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

According to Karen Zatz, the ADL's Western states assistant counsel, the impetus for the conference was manifold.

"Since Sept. 11, many institutions have come to us with security and disaster concerns," said Zatz, whose organization has published a free manual called "Keeping Your Jewish Institution Safe," which is available on the ADL Web site —

Zatz said that the past two years have seen a marked uptick in the number of anti-Semitic incidents, from 13 two years ago to 118 last year.

"There are a number of different factors that play into that, but one of the biggest factors is when anti-Israel sentiment crosses the line into anti-Semitism."

Abby Porth, the assistant director of the JCRC, said the conference served to bridge a knowledge gap between state and federal regulations, many of which don't coincide.

"Many of our organizations have difficulty navigating the alphabet soup of the emergency world, which is understandable. What we really wanted to emphasize is how important it is for local Jewish institutions to understand and tap into those organizations."

Some of the topics discussed included dealing with bomb threats, toxic hazards, earthquakes and civil disturbances. Participants were walked through the step-by-step procedures necessary to ameliorate the concerns about damage resulting from these incidents.

"It's sounds obvious, but the concerns of an assisted-care facility like Menorah Park are vastly different than a school or a synagogue," said Allan Lavigne, the security and emergency services consultant for the JCRC.

"That range of concerns was a big part of why we held the conference."

Tamsen Loundon-D'Souza, who lives in Grass Valley and attends Sacramento's Conservative Mosaic Law Congregation, said the conference gave her an "emotional charge."

"I'm very sensitive to the fear that the public feels, having worked as an EMT and a nurse," she said. "The feelings of being threatened can be overpowering if people don't feel they have a recourse of a plan.

"What was totally exciting about this conference is that they showed people a way around their fears."