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Nearly two years after shooting, local officials discuss safety measures at Virginia seminar

Today, April 14, marks the second anniversary of the murders of three people at Jewish sites in our community. Reat Underwood and Dr. William Corporon were shot in the parking lot of the Jewish Community Campus, and Teresa LaManno was killed in the parking lot of Village Shalom. That tragedy forced the Jewish community here, and others across the country, to re-evaluate their security plans.

Five months after the shootings, the Jewish community hired Blair Hawkins as director of community security. Hawkins and Todd Stettner, president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Kansas City, were featured speakers last week at “Protect and Prevent: A Security Workshop for Jewish Institutions,” sponsored by the Greater Washington, D.C., Jewish Community Relations Council and the Arlington County Office of Emergency Management in Fairfax, Virginia. Dianna Johnson, the Overland Park police officer in charge of the crime scene at the Campus the day of the shooting, spoke as well. Those attending included officials from Jewish institutions and the Office of Emergency Management as well as first responders.

The local contingent spoke at the session, “Crisis and Culture Change: April 2014 Shooting at the Overland Park Jewish Community Center,” held April 5. The trio discussed what was it like here before the shooting, what transpired the day of the shooting and what happened post shooting. That included bringing Hawkins on board, implementing the recommendations of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) at the Campus and other communal institutions, and long-term planning. 

A question-and-answer period followed their prepared remarks. Hawkins said people were most interested in hearing how the culture has changed since the shooting.

“We spoke about continuing to educate the community and communication. We repeatedly communicate with the community and the different boards. They were also interested in the technology and the different types of security features we have put in place and how that will assist them, as well as our strategies and our emergency information plan,” he said.

The biggest piece of the emergency information plan, according to Hawkins, is the mass notification system that he hopes will be up and running within the next 30 days. Immediately after the shooting, and before Hawkins came on board, Stettner said the community tried to implement a notification system recommended by the Secure Community Network, the security arm of the Jewish Federations of North America. However, that system didn’t work in our community.

“After two years of research we found one that met our needs, a system by Omnilert, and we found a sponsor that enabled us to purchase it,” Stettner said. 

A lot of the conversations between the audience and the local panelists were about lessons learned from the tragedy.

“One of the primary lessons that came out of this is no matter how well prepared you believe you are, you still need to continue to prepare,” said Hawkins, who noted that when he was hired as director of community security this was one of only a handful in Jewish communities in the country with this position, but now having dedicated security directors is a trend.

“However, many communities still have a person who handles many jobs including security,” he explained. “Some of the lessons that came out of this is just because you have an emergency operations plan that doesn’t mean you are prepared. You have to have someone who actually understands security. It’s not a secondary task, it’s not a one-time deal. You have to continually improve your security posture. You can’t do something one time and say we got that covered.”

Since April 2014, security has continued to be a top priority in the Kansas City Jewish community.

“It’s a continuous process. We are still doing drills. We just recently had a facility-wide drill that included the schools and the police department. We are averaging one every five or six months and then we do smaller drills at department levels,” Hawkins explained. 

In the near future Hawkins said Overland Park Police will be in the building on a Saturday where they can train onsite, and canine teams come to the Campus on a regular basis. As for the drills, Hawkins explained they are never the same.

“We’re trying to make it so we don’t get into a pattern of knowing when it’s going to happen or how it’s going to happen.” 

Every Campus employee is also supposed to undergo active shooter training, although it difficult to enforce because the program is online.

“I know the Federation does it and the Jewish Community Center does it. They go through a series of training and there’s a questionnaire at the end that they take. We also make available webinar training to congregations and agencies throughout the community that’s put on by the police department and DHS that’s free,” Hawkins said.

Stettner added that there’s been a lot of cultural changes regarding security in the Jewish community since the April 2014 events.

“There’s always more we can do and learn,” he said. “One of the things we need to do is make sure that we are prepared for any disaster, not just an active shooter. Part of disaster planning is to have an off-site command center in case the Campus is disabled or damaged.”

“The Israelis think about security all the time, but now we must also constantly be thinking about security as well. We can no longer afford to have this as a lower item on our priority list,” Stettner added.

Stettner and Hawkins were in Virginia less than a day, but they had a chance to meet other professionals and learn what’s happening security-wise in other areas.

“Other than my trip to Israel, it was very beneficial for me to interact with some of the other Jewish agencies and see how they operate and exchange ideas. It’s always positive when you get an opportunity to do that. It’s helpful to see what’s happening outside your small silo,” Hawkins said.