After fake bomb threats were called in to at least 42 Jewish community centers on Jan. 9 and Jan. 18, including the Marcus Jewish Community Center, the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta’s director of communitywide security said Jewish Atlanta responded quickly, professionally and appropriately.
Upon assessing the phoned-in threat Jan. 9 and consulting with local law enforcement, the Marcus JCC did not evacuate but did conduct a search of the entire campus.
The 16 threats that day and 27 on Jan. 18, including Nashville’s Gordon JCC both days, are under investigation by local, state and federal authorities and the Secure Community Network, which focuses on security for Jewish institutions under the auspices of the Jewish Federations of North America and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and has a partnership with the JCC Association of North America.
“If anything, the threats are a reminder to people to realize how important their emergency action and security plans are,” said Cathal Lucy, who oversees communitywide security for Atlanta’s Federation. “The JCC reacted professionally, and their enhancements to the security program recently worked well.”
Through the Secure Community Network, the Marcus JCC had clear protocols to follow in response to the bomb threat. That security program is open to any institution in the Atlanta Jewish community through Federation.
Even though all the bomb threats were hoaxes, Lucy said people in Atlanta need to make security a priority and take threats seriously.
“I think people should take security seriously every day,” he said. “I don’t think you should react only when something happens. People need to be on their security protocols. We all see what happens around the world on a daily basis; it could happen anywhere.”
Robbie Friedmann, the director of the Georgia International Law Enforcement Exchange at Georgia State University, said that because Jewish facilities such as synagogues and community centers are easy targets, threats against them cannot be taken lightly.
If a facility receives a threat, Friedmann said, the first step is to notify law enforcement.
“Synagogues and community centers are considered high-value targets,” Friedmann said. “Local authorities will usually react quickly to a threat. The situation is far better here than it is in, say, France or Holland, but we don’t want our heads buried in the sand.”
Friedmann also said that because of the First Amendment, a threat against an institution that is not specific, likely or imminent could be protected from prosecution as free speech.
In addition to Dunwoody and Nashville, the JCCs receiving threats in January included Charlotte, Birmingham, Orlando, Miami and cities in more than a dozen other states.
“We are concerned about the anti-Semitism behind these threats,” David Posner, who advises local JCCs on security as the director of strategic performance for the JCC Association of North America, said in a statement. “While the bombs in question are hoaxes, the calls are not.”
In response to the wave of bomb threats against Jewish institutions, the Secure Community Network held a webinar that drew more than 700 participants to go over bomb threat protocols and procedures.
“The more information you have, the easier it is to react to the situation,” Lucy said. “What we try to promote is security on a daily basis and making sure that people are practicing the proper protocol.”