Proactive Security Measures To Prevent Future Attacks On Synagogues

Tags: Living Beyond Terror, Terror

By Trevor Shaff

It is extremely doubtful that Robert Bowers woke up on Saturday Morning the 27th October 2018 and spontaneously decided that he was going to attack the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. In order for Robert Bowers, and for this matter any terrorist, criminal, rapist or vandal to succeed in his attack – he needs to plan his attack.

Robert Bowers knew his target, he knew where to enter, he knew what day to attack and he knew that there was no or little security. It was an attractive target, “easy pickings” – exactly what he was looking for.

And how did he know this? Because he gathered information. We can assume that he studied various Jewish sites in Pittsburgh, probably spending days, weeks and even months planning his attack.

When we understand the steps taken to plan an attack we can implement pro-active security measures that help prevent attacks.

In order to plan, Robert Bowers may have done the following:

  • Monitor various Jewish sites taking note of security and the activities of the site.
  • Visiting the site, entering and possibly asking the receptionist or a member of the community for information regarding the site.
  • He may have phoned and asked the synagogue their prayer times. He may even have said that he “wants to join and would like to enquire as to the security of the site as he is concerned that his family attend a service that is protected.”

In counter terrorism, we call the above “Information gathering” and our role as protectors is to firstly detect the information-gatherer and secondly, deter him. When he looks at our site, he should doubt his success and leave.


Robert Bowers was active on social networks. His hatred of Jews and his intentions were available to anyone who wanted to look at his posts and yet he succeeded in murdering and injuring so many people. Technological solutions together with physical security measures can assist us in ensuring that as soon as a person such as Robert Bowers comes within a certain distance from our site, we will be alerted.


  • Simple software solutions exist that search the internet seeking people with anti-Semitic postings and upload the photograph of this person to the communities’ CCTV infrastructure. Once that person comes within a certain distance of the site, facial recognition CCTV cameras match the person to his anti-Semitic postings and immediately warn the community as well as sending an alert to the closest police station.


  • Human awareness is a crucial counterpart to the technology. All community members and synagogue staff should know what behavior identifies an information gatherer.
  • Make sure the community has basic security awareness training to assist in identifying strangers and suspicious behavior.
  • If we see someone who is possibly gathering information we need to deal with it immediately – e.g. if we see someone like a Mr. Bowers repeatedly stopping to view the pedestrian entrance, checking for a guard, check for CCTV cameras or sitting in his car across the street from the synagogue, we should report it, describe the car, the registration number to the police. They can then do the necessary efforts to check on him and note his vile anti-Semitic behavior on social media to prevent a potential the attack from happening.
  • If someone phones the synagogue in order to gather information, never give any information unless we are 100% sure who we are talking to. And if you are not sure, ask the person for their contact number and tell them you will call them back. If the person is an information-gatherer – they will most probably not give the correct number and when we call back we will know for sure.


  • Make sure that we have physical security elements in place.
  • Do not have an “open-door policy” without stopping and questioning strangers.
  • Your synagogue is your home away from home. You will not let a stranger into your house without first asking questions and the same should be at your synagogue – your family are inside.
  • Ensure all access gates are closed at all times and only opened by a staff member or guard once a person is cleared to enter. This applies during services as well.
  • If you have a guard, ensure he is well trained and alert.
  • Let the information-gatherer know that he has been seen.
  • Do not provide too much information on the community website.
  • EMPOWER the community. Train the entire community in security awareness
  • Create an “eyes and ears awareness program”. Today a minyan needs to include eleven people – ten inside the synagogue and one outside looking for information gatherers, providing a deterrent and performing access control.
  • Make sure the community has basic security awareness training.

The aim of these points is to help our communities to feel secure during services and events, not to cause distress and panic, and to know how to respond in times of crisis.

In addition, it is always better to err on the side of caution and create a contingency plan, in case the preventive measures implemented fail and an attack does occur. Awareness and preparation empower individuals and the community as a whole.

Better safe than sorry is a guideline we should all live by. Let us use this tragedy to help us prevent further tragedies against Jews and all people in the world.

About the Author

Trevor Shaff
Trevor Shaff is an expert in crisis management and emergency disaster planning and has been responsible for the design and implementation of complex disaster management strategies. He specializes in physical security consulting and training for Jewish and Israeli communities and companies as well as high level banks and numerous other prominent institutions in Africa. He has trained and instructed over 30,000 people in South Africa, East and Central Africa, Australia and India including directors and upper management, security management, shop owners and tenants, educational facilities, hotels, CEOs, security personnel and guards as well as general staff. Trevor is the senior physical security consultant at MAX Security Solutions, Israel.

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Tags: Living Beyond Terror, Terror