By Alan Koenigsberg, M.D.
At our shul, we are extremely fortunate to have a member who takes point on security concerns. Especially as we approach this time of year, with the High Holidays around the corner, we work to reassure the congregation of our safety precautions.
Continuing with the theme of preventative health, it occurred to me that staying safe at shul is consistent with that theme. With that in mind, I’d like to share what we did this past weekend, in the hope that for those who have not yet implemented safety measures, this might serve as a motivation to do so.
On Friday night, as part of our annual sisterhood Shabbat, I took point to facilitate a safety drill during services. After the sisterhood dinner, when we all went into the sanctuary for services, I was asked to run the drill.
I went to the bima and took a few minutes to explain to the congregation what we were about to do. The rabbi had previously, during her d’var, done an excellent job in warming up the crowd to the need for safety during these times.
I explained that while the focus would be on an active shooter drill, it was more likely that we would face a fire or a tornado and I wanted to take a few minutes to discuss what to do during those situations.
In the event of a fire, members of the safety committee would pull the fire alarms, alert the rabbi and usher the members out the nearest exits to the far ends of the parking lot. We would need to make ample room for the fire trucks.
Members of the safety committee would have previously located and identified those members who had walkers or otherwise could use assistance in exiting the building. We would also have previously asked and designated members to carry out the Torahs.
In the event of a tornado, we would all proceed to the ground floor of our education wing, which is the most secure area of our synagogue.
In the event of an active shooter, we would have the ushers escort the members to previously designated areas for their safety.
I’m not going to go into specifics here, for obvious reasons.
Those three key steps are what provide reassurance to the congregants that we are as prepared as is practical. Much as school students do monthly fire drills, so that in the event of a fire they are not caught unprepared, we did the practice evacuation.
Then again the following morning, during Saturday services, we did another active shooter drill. With continued practice, the shul members are becoming more confident in our preparations, skills and awareness of potential risks, and what we are doing about them.
Intellectual learning is the first step toward being prepared, but without active participation and continued practice, preparation is not adequate.
We need to feel reasonably safe in our shuls at all times and especially during the High Holidays services, and I believe that by having these safety committee meetings, safety committee training and shul member drills, we are moving in that direction.
I wish everyone a safe and healthy New Year.
Alan Koenigsberg, M.D., is a practicing psychiatrist and clinical professor of psychiatry at UTSW Medical School in Dallas. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.