By Dr. Peter Tarlow
There was no reason to believe that the morning of Oct. 27 would be any different from that of any other weekend day in the suburban community of Squirrel Hill (outside of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania). Squirrel Hill is a typical American suburban community. It was a Saturday morning and that meant that worshipers were coming to synagogue for Sabbath (Shabbat) services. Suddenly, things changed when a gunman entered the synagogue and began to shoot. The tragic results are eleven people dead, at least six other people wounded (some gravely) and among the wounded were four police officers who risked their lives to save the community’s innocent victims. There is much we do not know about the Tree of Life (Etz Chayim) synagogue massacre, but there is also much, even at this early date, that we can learn from it. Below are some of the lessons that we might learn from this terrible tragedy.
– We can come together as a nation. Despite the tragedy, we also saw the goodness of America. There are few nations in the world where almost the entire body politic unites to consul the families of the dead and wounded. The tragedy touched citizens across the nation, from the most powerful to the humblest. For that day, we were all one. We can be proud that as a nation for the most part we went beyond politics and instead focused on those in need of healing. Seen from the perspective of Jewish history, America for the most part has been a beautiful exception to the millennia of prejudice that have afflicted our people during their European experience.
– Anti-Semitism is the world’s oldest social disease. We should not confuse an anti-Semitic attack with other terrible and tragic attacks. Jews have been victims for over 1,800 years. Often governments or religious institutions have sponsored this suffering, death and destruction with the world’s worst example being Nazi Germany. As such, the synagogue massacre is fundamentally different from other shootings. In this case, the shootings are a manifestation of pure hate against people whose only crime was being born. The other example of this form of prejudice or hatred is that which the African – American community has had to suffer. In both cases, the murders are committed against a person due to his or her religion or skin color
-Institutions with large crowds will have to rethink their gun control policies. There is no easy solution here. Gun advocates often suggest that crowds are safer when people are armed. There are many reasons to oppose this principle; these include
· There is no way to know who might be entering with a deadly weapon
· Mistakes can easily be made causing unintended consequences
· Guns during panic situations may create more harm than good.
On the other side of the argument there are those who argue that forbidding guns makes people safer. Opposing arguments can also be put forth. Some of these arguments include:
· Putting up signs stating that a location is a gun-free zone is basically a license to kill unarmed civilians
· Criminals are not stopped by gun-free zones
· By the time the police arrive people will already be dead
· Gun-free zones not only create soft targets but also soft-security
It is not the purpose of this article to support or oppose gun free zones. Each organization will need to make that decision for itself and in accordance with local laws. This article’s purpose is to provide lessons learned and how both religious and tourism institutions can work to make themselves safer. Toward that goal, Tourism & More offer the following suggestions
-Do not confuse good luck with good planning. Just because you have never had a problem in the past does not mean that you will not have one in the future. Assume that you will have the problem and then work to assure that there will never be a worst-case scenario. Do not enter into the world of wishful thinking or political rhetoric. Security should practiced in a non-partisan and non-political atmosphere.
-We need to get beyond denial and face realities. Many people tend to believe that tragedies touch other people’s lives, not their own. Nothing could be further from the truth. Tragedies are part of life and it behooves those in charge of events such as religious services or other mass gatherings to take every precaution possible. On the other hand, to live in to fear and anger is to reward the victimizer.
-Meet with local law enforcement on a regular basis. Do not wait for a crisis to occur. It is better to prevent a crisis than deal with it, and that means good risk management. These meetings with law enforcement should include:
· An analysis of the location’s physical, social and demographic vulnerabilities
· Means to mitigate these vulnerabilities
· An evacuation plan that includes not only an escape route but also a way to inform the public during a panic
· Preparation should there be a blackout.
-Realize that the public is more used to armed guards and police presence than most people realize. The American public is now used to armed guards at everything from airports to movie theaters. In most cases, well-trained armed guards assure the public rather than frighten it. Good security personnel know how to mix good security with good customer service and a smile. Their presence tends to bring comfort rather than fear.
-Meet with the local fire departments and first aid providers and develop personal relationships with these first responders. When meeting with first responders make sure that anyone who is in charge of large gatherings knows such basic facts as:
· Blood center locations
· Ambulance availability
· Victim identification
· Types and means of communication exist
–Deciden what, if any, form of professional security personnel should be posted at ingresses and egresses. Non-professionals cannot make this decision alone. It is best to discuss types and quantity of security with professionals. They can also help you to understand that deterrents might create new bottlenecks and therefore new vulnerabilities.
-Monitor social media. Hate-filled individuals tend want to share their ideas with others. It is not easy, nor inexpensive, to monitor social media, but identifying such people can save many lives.
-Create atmospheres where people are not afraid to say something if they see something. The statement: “see something; say something” only works if people are not afraid to report anti-social or dangerous behavior. All too often we learn that neighbors and colleagues suspected something was not right but for fear of being labeled a “bigot” chose to remain silent. It is imperative that we develop a balance between a society that allows privacy and basic freedoms and one that checks on those who would physically harm others.
-Pressure social media and politicians to cease using hateful speech and to desist from dehumanization. Media such as FaceBook and Twitter have a social responsibility to monitor what they post. In a like manner our heated political atmosphere needs to be cooled down. We must insist that journalists return to being journalists rather than propagandists for their preferred political position. Politics should not be jousting match but an open and honest dialogue framed with mutual respect.
Dr. Peter Tarlow produces an email newsletter on the tourism industry. He suggests prior to implementing any suggestion he may mention that you need to consult an expert on your specific security issues.