By Ann Longmore-Etheridge
A Department of Homeland Security grant helps a targeted religious group secure its house of worship.
Chabad-Lubavitch is a branch of orthodox Judaism founded in the late 18th century in Russia. Today, Chabad has more than 3,000 community centers, synagogues, schools, and other facilities in approximately 70 countries. One of these was Nariman House, a site targeted by Pakistani militants in November 2008 during the horrific attacks in Mumbai, India. The terrorists took hostages in Nariman House and murdered Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg and his wife, Rivka, who ran the outreach center.
Even in the United States, Chabad facilities and their members have been the targets of violence. For example, in April 2011, a pipe bomb exploded in the parking lot of a Chabad house in Santa Monica, California. In 2009, Nazi swastikas and anti-Semitic graffiti were sprayed across the exterior of an El Paso, Texas, Chabad center, and in 2011, the Chabad-Lubavitch Jewish Center of Boise, Idaho, suffered a similar defacement. In addition to being at risk of attack by white supremacists and other anti-Semites , the group also is seen as extreme by some in other Jewish denominations. Those opposing Chabad have created Web sites with stark language such as “no Jewish child is safe in a Chabad school,” for example.
Jeffrey A. Slotnick, CPP, PSP, president of Setracon, Inc., of Tacoma, Washington, is the chair of the ASIS International Physical Security Council and a member of the ASIS Critical Infrastructure Working Group. He offered his services pro bono to help build in security from the ground up for a new Chabad House in an urban area of Washington State. Slotnick is a consultant who has worked with various high-profile religious institutions including churches, synagogues, mosques, and private schools affiliated with religious organizations. He has also assisted various houses of worship in preparing U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) nonprofit security grant request forms that have resulted in approximately $800,000 given to the applicants.
The rabbi of the Chabad House that Slotnick assisted gave permission for Slotnick to describe the security issues and the security system that resulted, although he did not want the facility named, nor did he want to comment in this article himself.
“The synagogue is a new structure based on a very historic design,” Slotnick explains. It was built to replicate an existing facility that serves as a synagogue in New York, where the Chabad movement came into full bloom in the second half of the 20th century under the leadership of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson.
“This particular community has come under significant threat in the past several years,” Slotnick explains. “They were the victims in the attack in Mumbai and have been subject to various acts of anti-Semitism around the world…. I have done training for [Chabad-Lubavitch] internationally, as well as a number of risk threat and vulnerability assessments for various institutions in support of nonprofit security grants, so it was a natural progression of ‘We are going to build this. We know we need security. Will you work with us on this?’”
The new Chabad House includes a synagogue, an office for the rabbi, and multiple rooms and halls for the use of the members. It can accommodate a congregation of about 150. “The issue is, for many houses of worship, how do you balance the requirements and needs of a secure environment while providing a facility that is open and welcoming to the people who want to come in?” says Slotnick.
He began by conducting a risk assessment. “The first part of designing any physical security system is to understand the potential threats and consequences,” he states. Armed with his results, Slotnick helped the rabbi submit an application for a DHS grant . DHS granted $71,000 last October.
As the project got underway, Slotnick worked closely with the rabbi and the project’s architects, “because not only is the security system an issue,” he explained, “but I wanted to ensure that we had ‘crime prevention through environmental design’ principles applied in the lighting and landscaping.”
For example, the design plans called for a green strip of trees between the parking area and the sidewalk. “I wanted to put the trees in planters that are devices to prevent cars from driving up on the sidewalk and crashing into the front door of the synagogue. So we worked with a landscape designer to get the appropriate tree and the right size pot that was rated for impact,” he says.
As another example, the rabbi had envisioned strong exterior lighting, but Slotnick thought that a better alternative was a less powerful down-lighting. This would work with the infrared video-analytic cameras he wanted to use as well as not blast the neighbors with industrial-strength brightness.
Slotnick’s integrator on the project was the Aronson Security Group. Slotnick provided the performance specifications he was looking for and Aronson found the products that could do the job. In the case of the exterior cameras, Aronson chose the P3346-VE series by AXIS Communications of Lund, Sweden. P3346-VE is a 3-megapixel fixed-dome network camera with IR illuminators. These cameras are integrated with a suite of video analytics software by Mate Intelligent Video, Inc., USA, of Norwalk, Connecticut, and exacqVision video management software by Exacq Technologies of Fishers, Indiana.
The cameras are programmed to detect approaching movement during nonoperational hours. If a camera spots someone coming up to the synagogue late at night, for instance, an alarm will trigger and, additionally, the analytics software will send camera images to a smartphone so that the rabbi or others appointed by him can ascertain what is occurring and notify 911 if the situation appears to warrant it. They can also look at the camera feed via an IP address on the Internet. The alarms do not, as of now, report to a central monitoring service or command center. This decision was made for monetary reasons. Slotnick notes that the solution was this “virtual” command center, with the rabbi—who lives nearby—and his trusted assistants having the ability to view the video via computer whenever they wish.
The exterior cameras are also programmed to look for items left behind, so if at any time of day someone approaches the Chabad House and leaves a package by the door, an alarm condition will result.
Inside the Chabad House, watching the sanctuary and the principal entrances are AXIS P1343 dome cameras. These are nonanalytic. All of the feed from the cameras runs to a server for storage that is located in the rabbi’s office. There is no redundant server now, but as finances permit, Slotnick says he will look at a cloud storage solution for backing the system up.
When the synagogue is not in use, the doors will be locked. All the exterior doors and rooms such as the rabbi’s office, the kitchen, and the social hall are controlled by a cardkey access system. Following Slotnick’s specifications, Aronson chose proximity readers and cards by HID of Irvine, California, that are integrated with a Web-based management software called Pronto, by S2 Security of Framingham, Massachusetts, that is designed for nonsecurity personnel. The user interface features a home page that acts as a simple system dashboard.
The final security component is an intercom and minicamera system by Aiphone of Bellevue, Washington. When the rabbi is alone in the building, which is a majority of the time, if someone comes to the front door, the rabbi can see who is there on a screen on the desk phone and decide whether to buzz them in or not. “If he sees somebody who looks suspicious , he can dial 911 immediately,” says Slotnick.
The installation of the equipment, and the testing of the system, along with staff training, took place early this year, and Slotnick says that everything went as planned. The only changes that were needed were related to camera housings. At the rabbi’s request, those were changed to make them less conspicuous.
“The intent is to have a system that is unobtrusive, welcoming—the system should be invisible to people who attend the synagogue. We don’t want them to feel like they are walking into a bank. We want them to feel like they are walking into a house of worship,” Slotnick states.
photo by Dominic Alves/flickr