“In the world we live in today, we really need to know what the person next to us is doing,” said Officer Robert Connolly, commanding officer of the Nassau County Police Department’s Homeland Security division.
Connolly’s message was central to a situational awareness program the NCPD brought to the East Meadow Jewish Center on Monday — a day after bomb threats were e-mailed to 19 Jewish community centers across the country, including one in Albany.
The threats were not deemed credible at any of the centers — none of which were in Nassau or Suffolk counties — and an investigation into where the e-mails originated is continuing, according to the New York State Police.
“None of them resulted in any harm other than the terror they created,” Connolly said, noting that this has been the case with many bomb threats made against Jewish organizations in recent years.
The most important step to take when receiving a bomb threat by phone, Connolly said, is not to hang up. Staying on the phone gives you more time to pick up clues to pass along to law enforcement. On its website, the State Police offers a “bomb threat checklist” of clues to note and questions to ask the person making the threat.
Although police deemed the scene safe, the Sidney Albert Albany Jewish Community Center was evacuated immediately after it received a bomb threat last Sunday. The facility remained closed for the rest of the day, Gov. Andrew Cuomo wrote in a tweet following the incident. That decision is up to the facility’s staff rather than law enforcement, Connolly said, and is one of many factors he asked audience members to consider if their congregation received a threat.
He explained the importance of drafting an emergency-response plan that details the synagogue’s safest areas, fastest evacuation routes and where to meet after leaving the building. The plan should also designate a security response team whose members are responsible for de-escalating any disturbances and communicating with law enforcement in the case of an emergency. Team members should have proper emergency-services training, as off-duty police officers, veterans or EMTs do.
The East Meadow congregation has been taking steps to bolster its security and further protect its members since October 2018, after the mass shooting at the Tree of Life Congregation synagogue in Pittsburgh. Monday’s situational awareness program, dubbed “Caretakers of the Congregation,” wasn’t the first time congregants learned how to respond emergencies. In December, representatives of Northwell Health presented a free program called Stop the Bleed, in which employees taught members how to treat life-threatening wounds.
Stop the Bleed was launched by the federal Department of Homeland Security in October 2015, in response to the 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Conn., that left 26 people dead — many due to blood loss, according to reports.
Connolly explained that police responding to active-shooter cases are focused first and foremost on finding and apprehending the assailant. It is up to civilians, therefore, to step up and treat one another’s injuries. Stop the Bleed teaches participants how to suppress blood loss and keep victims alive until they receive medical attention. Since it hosted the program, East Meadow Jewish Center officials have equipped the building with bleeding-control kits near to its automated external defibrillators. The kits include tourniquets, pressure dressings, gauze bandages, rubber gloves and pairs of scissors.
“The police have to find and stop the shooter, so you may have to save a life,” said Seth Goodstein, a member of the center who ran the program with the Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs and the Jewish Community Relations Council of Long Island.
The situational awareness training ended with video titled “Evan,” created by Sandy Hook Promise, an advocacy group that was formed after the shooting. The video notes that 80 percent of school shooters, and 70 percent of those who die by suicide, reveal their plans before carrying them out.
“Evan” tells the story of two teenagers meeting and falling in love. It ends with them signing each other’s yearbooks in their school cafeteria, before a student enters with a gun and opens fire. The film shows how the student’s violent plans were revealed in the background of each scene.
The most important component of situational awareness, Connolly said, is to recognize a threat. Similar to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s mantra, “If you see something, say something,” Connolly said, civilians who know something should do something and contact law enforcement.
State Police also have a smartphone application called “See Something, Send Something,” through which civilians can record suspicious activity on their phones and send it directly to police. Connolly said that he would rather have someone report a false alarm than let a potential threat go unreported.