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Following tragedy, Jewish Federation hires community security director

Blair Hawkins

It’s been said that from all bad things come something good. In the Jewish community, 155 days after the tragedy on April 13 in which three people were murdered in the parking lots of two Jewish institutions, that good thing is the hiring of a director of community security.

{mprestriction ids="1,3"}Blair Hawkins has been chosen for the position and took over the duties Monday, Sept. 15. He will report to Todd Stettner, president and CEO of the Jewish Federation. The Jewish Federation secured funding to pay the position’s salary for two years. At the end of that period, Stettner expects the Federation will absorb the cost of the director of community security’s salary as part of its general operating expenses.

Since the tragedy, visitors to the Jewish Community Campus have seen a continued police presence on the property. As of this past weekend, that appears still to be the case.

Hawkins comes to this position with more than 20 years in law enforcement and security-related experience. He has worked for the U.S. State Department overseas and has been a security contractor for a variety of corporations in our area and around the country. He has worked with ABC and Fox News corporations, Microsoft and Marley Cooling technologies among others.

He is a former Seattle police detective and commanded a drug task force. Locally he has worked with several police departments and assisted Lenexa in training its SWAT team. He is married and has two children.

Stettner said one of the first major tasks Hawkins will concentrate on, along with Alan Bram who since the tragedy has served as the Campus’ security consultant, is to look thoroughly at the Department of Homeland Security’s audit of the Campus and other Jewish entities in the community. 

“He will particularly help prioritize what needs to come first” in terms of implementing these recommendations, Stettner said. Along those lines Hawkins will be responsible for securing the proper vendors and negotiate the costs of any new equipment needed.

Once the Campus needs have been carefully scrutinized, Stettner said Hawkins will branch out and meet the security coordinators of the institutions and congregations in other locations across the community. 

“One of the things I will do is arrange security training,” Hawkins added.

Hawkins, Stettner said, will be building relationships with local police departments and emergency services personnel. When needed, the security director will facilitate introductions between the off-campus security coordinators and these professionals.

“He will make sure all the right things are done as far as emergency preparedness,” Stettner said.

It’s important to note that the director of campus security will focus on all types of emergency preparedness issues — such as tornados and fires — and not solely on preventing tragedies such as the one on April 13 that spurred the creation of this position.

“Blair will cover the whole scope of emergency preparedness,” Stettner said. “It’s not just about what happened, which many people feel was a fluke. Law enforcement even said it would be very hard to protect against that kind of a shooting.”

“We live in a dangerous world right now. Blair knows first-hand, having been to many of the countries where it is really dangerous,” Stettner continued. “There are threats coming continually, not against our particular community but against the Jewish world. I think having somebody like Blair here can help us make ourselves less of a target for all of those things as well. He’ll be working closely with our national security folks at SCAN (Secure Community Network of National Jewish Organizations).”

“There is a small but growing network of Jewish community security directors around the country and we hope to put Blair in touch with them so he’ll be part of the network in learning what other communities are doing and how they are doing it,” Stettner concluded.

One of the security issues still undecided is who will be in charge of the Campus security guards as well as whether or not these guards should be armed. 

“The Campus has been waiting for us to hire this position. Now they will sit down with Blair and talk about the guard situation,” Stettner said. “He will work very closely with the Campus and all the security needs here.”

As he gets comfortable in the job, Hawkins will create a committee comprised of the various agency and congregational security coordinators, Stettner said, “to help assess what’s going on in the community and what needs they have and what he should know in terms of the community.”

On the horizon is also the implementation of the mass notification system, donated by Safety Alert Apps. A variety of community executives were trained to use the system this summer. 

“He will help us figure out how to make the best use of this system,” Stettner said. “We’re also looking at mass notification systems for some of the individual groups.”

Hawkins said he is familiar with similar systems.

“The biggest challenge with those systems is making sure that the data bases are kept current,” he said.

Hawkins said he was attracted to this position because “this is just one part of the bigger community and since I live in this community and I have close ties in the Jewish community, this is like a family to me.”

“For me, it’s almost like a mission of protecting my family and my close friends.”

Hawkins, who is not Jewish, can’t talk a lot about his previous work, because much of what he did is considered “classified” information by the U.S. government. He did say he moved to this area to work for a private manufacturing company that has government contracts.

“I came here and serviced that company and later became the director of security for them, and that was prior to 9-11, almost 15 years ago.

“I fell in love with the place. I love Overland Park. I love Kansas. It’s a great place,” he continued.

He said his biggest challenge will be the sheer size of the community.

“It’s huge with a lot of different agencies and a lot of competing needs. I think being able to sit down and prioritize the needs of each of these agencies and then wrap that up into a family, community-type need” will be a challenge,” Hawkins said.

He is looking forward to serving in the position “for a very long time and for the opportunity to meet each of the outlying groups as well, the synagogues and the different organizations. It’s a very complicated structure if you come in from the outside and that’s a challenge, but it’s also something that is very interesting and I think will bring a lot of satisfaction.”

The search committee charged with the task of hiring a director of community security included several local Jewish agency executives, two member of the security staff at Sprint and former Overland Park Police Chief John Douglass.