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JEPP First-Hand: Phil Nordlinger of Shir Ami Shares His Lessons Learned

By Phil Nordlinger, Executive Director at Shir Ami, as told to JEPP

A First-Hand Account of the JEPP Program

JEPP First-Hand: Phil Nordlinger of Shir Ami Shares His Lessons Learned

When an antisemitic terrorist attack shattered the peace at the Tree of Life Congregation five years ago, I knew the ripple

effects would be felt far and wide – including at my own doorstep – as a leader at Shir Ami, a Reform synagogue just a few hours away.

At the time, staff at Shir Ami had already started to ramp up our security profile, however, after the attack in Pittsburgh, security became a much bigger concern. There was this dark moment of antisemitism in the world. And we just decided that safety was not something we wanted to mess around with.

The Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia announced they would provide a grant for a year-long community resilience program run by JEPP. After we applied and were accepted, Shir Ami became part of the program’s first cohort. JEPP gave us a vulnerability assessment, identifying the security risks and weaknesses in our systems, as well as customized a plan of action, helped us designate our chain of command, and choose infrastructure points so that our team can prepare to face incidents.

The program is based on the procedures used by the Israel Home Front Command and facilitated by experts who believe that more than having a security plan, investing in human behavior saves lives. We had a great working relationship, and they were really helpful in easing us into the unfamiliar, but pushing us to do things that would ultimately benefit our congregation’s emergency preparedness.

The team at JEPP was able to walk us through our own building and tell us which areas needed strengthening. We talked about the physical structure of the building. We discussed which areas should have cameras and which should have more lighting. They even pointed out the areas that were good for hiding and the ones that were potentially weak or obvious.They picked out the blind spots.

Eventually, we met other Jewish organizations in combined seminars that focused on active shooter and bomb threat drills and exercises that simulated scary real-life situations. JEPP focused us on moving from the theoretical, which we had learned in our online conversations, and putting it to practical use. It made everything real.

If someone were to ask me what I had learned through this year-long program, here are two things I would tell them

  • Recognize the areas of deficiency in your security profile and find ways to fix them.

  • Online training is fine, but on-site training is even more important.

At Shir Ami, we realized that we had thought about security protocols and procedures, but we hadn’t actually developed a concrete plan of what we would do in an emergency situation. Today, we have laid out procedures and our leaders are more aware of the different components and necessities that go into handling a crisis.

It is often assumed that individuals have a clear understanding of how they will respond in the event of an actual incident. However, in practice, reactions can differ significantly from theoretical expectations. As a Jewish institution, we knew we had to be prepared, but JEPP helped us determine how best to accomplish this. That’s the program’s greatest takeaway.

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