By Dave Sorter
Not much will visibly change in terms of Dallas-area Jewish community security measures in the wake of Saturday’s deadly shootings at the Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh, because of the two years of security work that has already been done here, according to Robert Caltabiano, director of security for the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas.
However, he said, the implementation of the Federation’s security initiative in 2016 had led to a more educated community, and recent programming will make worshippers in synagogues and participants at events more prepared in case something similar happens here.
“Nothing is changing,” Caltabiano said. “We may tweak things a little bit.”
Education has been the centerpiece of the Federation’s security initiative, which was evident just before the High Holy Days, when Caltabiano and local police departments conducted three “active shooter” workshops — two in North Dallas, with the help of the Dallas Police Department, and one in Plano, in partnership with the Plano Police Department.
“Participants gained more awareness. These sessions focused on survival — run, hide, fight,” Caltabiano said. “We’re coming up on the (secular) holidays now, and criminals don’t distinguish between Jewish and non-Jewish. So people can use these techniques if something happens at a shopping mall or any public event.”
In fact, he said, “If it wasn’t for education up in Pittsburgh, the death toll would have been much higher” than the 11 people killed, allegedly by anti-Semite Robert Bowers. “They just went through an active-shooter scenario.”
Caltabiano, a former Secret Service agent, joined the Federation in May 2017 and is continuing to develop programs to enhance security in the Jewish community and among the organizations within it. In addition to the active-shooter seminars — which he said will continue through the winter in the wake of the Pittsburgh shooting — he has encouraged synagogues to implement “Shul Watch.”
“The synagogue has an additional usher who doesn’t seat people, but serves as additional eyes and ears,” Caltabiano said. “They make sure doors are locked, can communicate if there’s an armed guard outside and can help out if someone gets sick or has fallen and they can’t get up.”
These additional ushers are not armed, he added — unless the synagogue wants them to be.
“It’s up to the house of worship,” he said. “If that’s what they really want. Many people believe you shouldn’t go into a house of worship with a gun, and then there’s the situation that if the police show up, they don’t know who’s the good guy and who’s the bad guy.”
Though President Donald Trump and others said that the Pittsburgh massacre could have been stopped had congregants been armed, Caltabiano likened the debate to the discussion about arming teachers after the shootings earlier this year at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, and Santa Fe (Texas) High School.
“You don’t want someone who is untrained or maybe not comfortable with a gun to be responsible for stopping an attack,” he said. “Let teachers teach. Now, if a congregation has a law-enforcement person within it, and many do, let them use their expertise. But in most cases, a good armed guard would serve better.”
Should a shooting event occur here — whether in a synagogue, at a Jewish organization’s event or anywhere people gather for any reason — Caltabiano encourages those involved to use the “run, hide, fight” method he teaches at active shooter programs.
• Run: “Get away from the situation as fast as you can,” he said. “Get out of there. If you’re with people, take them with you, but if they don’t want to go, go without them and don’t look back.”
• Hide: “If you can’t get away, hide. Put your inner child on. Where would you go hide if you were a child? Most people run into the bathroom or a closet, but you don’t think the crazy person doesn’t know people hide in a closet or the bathroom?”
• Fight: “If you can’t hide, fight. Fight for your life. Fight as hard as you can. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain.”
Caltabiano said he has seen much improvement in the Dallas Jewish community’s security awareness and involvement in the year and a half since he joined the Federation, “but we have a lot more work to do,” he said.
“Part of the Jewish community is always security-conscious. But we’re all Americans, and Americans have a sense that ‘it can’t happen here,’ but it can.”
In addition to continuing the active-shooter classes, Caltabiano is planning other educational initiatives geared around safety, such as classes on how to stop bleeding and on how to administer CPR. “It’s those little things that are so important as we grow up,” he said.
The security team is also working on innovative “security by environmental design” measures with the Dallas Holocaust Museum on its new building and The Legacy Senior Communities on its new The Legacy Midtown Park that will incorporate natural resources into security systems.
The takeaway from Pittsburgh, Caltabiano said, is that “This is a life lesson. This is the first time the Jewish community in the United States has been hit like this. Life is too precious not to take care of your own life. When you go to worship Friday and Saturday, have that third eye. Know your surroundings, know where to go, where the exits are. Same thing if there’s a fire.”