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Scottsdale police officers teach bike safety to students at the Valley of the Sun JCC’s Early Childhood Center.            

You can never be too careful. With that thought in mind, Ina Levine Jewish Community Campus Director of Security Jimmy Wasson is working with Jewish Federation of Greater Phoenix, other Jewish community organizations and local law enforcement to introduce a new community-wide initiative to adapt and respond to various emergencies. 

“Having a vigilant mindset is what allows us to be effective in knowing what to prepare for,” Wasson said. 

While security always has been paramount at the Ina Levine JCC, the response initiative was launched after the October shooting at the Tree of Life*Or L’Simcha synagogue in Pittsburgh that killed 11 people. Wasson began working with Federation to introduce the response initiative, tentatively called the Community Emergency Response Unit.

The unit is developing response plans for multiple hypothetical situations from active shooters to natural disasters. 

“We’re making sure that if, God forbid, something like that happens we’ll have a comprehensive response to get the community healing as quickly as possible,” said Bob Silver, a former Federation board chairman. 

Wasson, a retired Scottsdale Police lieutenant, was hired as security director when the campus implemented new security procedures in 2017. 

Silver led the campaign to enact the new security features. He said the real wake up call for him and the community came after two consultants from the Secure Community Network (SCN) assessed the campus’ security situation.

SCN is a nonprofit organization created in 2004 by Jewish Federations of North America to disseminate Homeland Security initiatives and provide security consultation to a variety of Jewish organizations.

Currently, the campus has its own security team, uniformed Scottsdale police officers and a keycard to enter the building. 

Police officers and firefighters often lead and participate in events. For example, two officers led a bicycle safety course for students of The Valley of the Sun JCC’s Early Childhood Center. 

Silver said being a part of the police community is constantly strengthening the relationship between the two groups.

“The first thing we wanted to do was secure our facilities and now this response unit feels like a natural progression,”

Silver said. 

Every month, Wasson runs hypothetical situations, also called “tabletop scenarios,” to develop comprehensive plans that go beyond simply improving security. Each tabletop scenario also extends to how the community would shelter people, provide crisis counseling and even raise and distribute aid. 

The response unit has developed several small task forces that are specific to assisting one aspect of a potential emergency. Silver said each task force offers a framework to help the Jewish community be five steps ahead of any dangerous situation. 

An example Silver provided was how the response initiative is developing a comprehensive communication plan that specifically makes sure the right information is being released to the community and clamps down on rumors.

These resources are not exclusive to the Jewish community. Wasson and Federation is working on how the scenarios could be implemented in other communities across the Valley that may experience any kind of disaster.

“We want to be a good neighbor in the community, so it’s playing out all these tabletops to find out what we can do to assist whoever might need our help,” said Federation President and CEO Marty Haberer. “If something were to happen weather-wise, and say a church was hit particularly hard, what would our role be?”

The hope, of course, is that these resources will never be used. All three of the men were quick to say that at this time there haven’t been any security threats against the campus or any specific Jewish organization in the community. But if the unthinkable does occur, an emergency response will be available to deal with

the crisis. 

Wasson said he hopes everyone in the Jewish community will remain vigilant and communicate any potential threats no matter how small they may seem. 

“The community is a force multiplier and we’re all responsible for each other’s safety,” Wasson said. “That vigilant mindset that we talk a lot about is what helps us be better at securing this building and this community.” JN

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