Manual tells local Jews how to defend themselves

new york | A new 200-plus-page manual called “Emergency Planning: Disaster and Crisis Response Systems for Jewish Organizations” aims to give Jewish agencies more tools for dealing with terror threats like those plaguing financial institutions in New York and Washington.

The manual, which will be officially released in the next few weeks, provides tips for dealing with disasters from floods to terrorism, and asks groups to plan according to their individual risks.

Allan Lavigne, the director of security for the S.F.-based Jewish Community Relations Council, said heightened security concerns “aren’t anything new.”

“This is all stuff we’ve known for quite some time. Since 9/11, we knew al-Qaida would be looking at different targets they thought they could access,” he said.

“They’ve done a good job on the East Coast. There’re very few places you go today that don’t have some kind of security.”

In Lavigne’s view, however, the West Coast is “lagging” when it comes to security.

“Over the years, I’ve spoken at not just Jewish organizations where people didn’t know how to evacuate their own building in the event of fire or emergency,” he said, noting businesses in the World Trade Center that ran evacuation drills fared far better on 9/11.

After that, Lavigne said the most important factor in maintaining security is, simply, keeping tabs on who can and cannot enter the facility.

The new safety manual was produced by the United Jewish Communities, the coordinating body for the North American Jewish federation system, and the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York, which contracted the John Jay College of Criminal Justice to aid in the effort.

The Anti-Defamation League, which has authored its own guide on securing Jewish institutions against hate crimes, wrote one section of the emergency guide.

The manual aims to be a “catalyst to action,” said Barry Swartz, who staffs the UJC’s emergency committee.

“We want to impress upon local institutions and organizations the need for them to develop an emergency plan,” he said.

The manual comes as Jewish institutions have worked to fortify their facilities following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

It also comes after recent passage of a bill in the U.S. Senate that would provide federal aid to secure religious sites, a balm to many Jewish groups facing heavy security costs.

The manual will accompany another national Jewish communal security initiative — the SCAN emergency network recently put in place by the UJC and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

The network operates through an outside firm, which would notify Jewish communities about threats by contacting organizational officials by cell phone or beeper.

Producers of the new manual stress that it goes beyond the threat of terrorism.

The manual stresses that “man-made disasters are far less likely than natural ones. Tornadoes, blackouts, fires and even water-main breaks occur on a regular basis. So do micro-events such as layoffs, a sexual harassment charge or the death of a beloved teacher. Any one of these can have a detrimental impact on your organization.”

Staff writer Joe Eskenazi contributed to this report.