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April 2, 2015 11:45 am

Burying Our Heads in the Sandbox: Ignoring Security at Jewish Summer Camps

avatar by Joshua Gleis

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A Jewish day camp in Hungary. Summer camps increasingly have to worry about a new matter: security. Photo: Zoltan Szabo.

With signs of spring just barely starting to show, it might be hard to imagine that camp directors from coast to coast are dusting off their handbooks and starting to plan for summer. Yet apart from the standard repairs, hiring and logistical concerns, summer camps increasingly have to worry about a relatively new matter: security. As reporting of lone wolf attacks steadily grows, with threats from ISIS and other groups looming in the back of parents’ minds everywhere, camp leaders are perhaps for the first time really having to address a growing chorus of parents concerned for the safety of their children. For Jewish day camps and sleepaway camps, they face not only the threats that all other summer camps face, but also those very real dangers that are more exclusive to those with Jewish and Zionist backgrounds and affiliations. Unfortunately, too many camps are failing to adequately deal with the fact that summer camps have become an ideal “soft target.”

As schools have begun to button up their security protocols and hardware, making them more difficult to attack, summer camps remain wide open. All too often, the bad guys of this world seek out the softest targets possible. Analysts believe that that is a major reason why the shooter Adam Lanza targeted Sandy Hook Elementary School. And while school attacks are more widespread, attacks on summer camps are not without precedent.

On July 22, 2011, Anders Breivik opened fire at a summer camp on Utoya Island in Norway, killing 69 campers. He had killed another 8 in a bombing in Oslo hours earlier. Lanza admired Breivik and may have sought to emulate or even outdo him as a result. While their ideologies may have differed, it is a widely known fact that active shooters learn from each other, are indoctrinated by one another, and seek to surpass one another.

Regrettably, too many camp administrators are passing off concerns of parents as overreactions, claiming that there is nothing that can really be done in such wide open environments. Others recognize the threat but are misallocating their limited resources.

The good news is that despite camps being porous and open by nature, there is much that can be done to protect them. While no security plan will ever be perfect, summer camps can and should take steps to better secure their campers, staff and campgrounds. There are two areas where camps should invest and focus: operational training and security guards. Operational training includes training relevant staff members on emergency procedures such as lock downs and evacuations – tailored specifically for their camps. Operational training also means improving day to day operations to better deter potential attackers, more easily identify a breach, and better report activities to law enforcement. Emergency procedures must ultimately fulfill one key objective: to buy time for an effective police response. And at too many camps around the country, an effective police response can be upwards of 15-45 minutes away.

Employing properly trained security personnel with law enforcement backgrounds who are more adequately equipped to deal with threats helps not just to deter, but also to potentially provide an effective response before a larger police force can arrive on scene.  Good operations will help identify and hopefully prevent threats from occurring in the first place. But if an emergency were to unfold, the security guards could help mitigate the loss of life and buy time for an effective police response. Too many camps are increasingly employing security guards with minimal training who are getting paid meager salaries. These guards are providing a false sense of security to staff, parents and campers. They have too few hours of training and no means to protect themselves and others. They are essentially hired as gatekeepers to wave at cars driving into the property, without the resources to screen them or the tools and knowhow to properly respond in an emergency.

A growing number of Jewish camps are also relying on their Israeli shlichim, with experience in the IDF, to be in charge of security. One may have been the most heroic and well intentioned soldier in the IDF, but without adequate training and preparation for dealing with an attack on a summer camp in the United States – and the means to respond – there is only so much these shlichim or others will be able to do.
As camp leaders sit down to plan their summers, now is the time to budget for proper security measures. They can all start with a proper security audit and assessment of their facility. Many camps are investing money on items that will ultimately do little to protect their campers and staff. Spending a little bit of money on a proper audit – one that reviews both operations as well hardware – will help identify some key items that should be addressed before the summer begins. This is not just the right thing to do, but it will save the camp money in the long run by devoting limited resources to the right measures. Budgeting for the development of proper emergency procedures, operations and trainings by professionals instead of trying to develop these items on their own from online resources can ensure realistic, tailor-made solutions. Budgeting for properly trained and equipped security guards, even if fewer than ideally needed at first, can go a long way. Proper security is something that should be strived for and built upon year after year, not something that can be achieved overnight.

There is much that still can be done between now and the first day of camp. Camp directors must stop burying their heads in the sandbox and develop effective security procedures.

Dr. Joshua Gleis is President of Gleis Security Consulting. Learn more at:

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  • Max Cohen

    The cheapest security is to sow confusion among anti-Semites. For example, post a variety of signs in conspicuous places on roads leading to the camps. Jesus Saves, Allahu Akbar, and My Daddy is a Communist are all sure to be disorienting, causing them to turn back believing this is the wrong place! Tell the kids it’s all just a game and urge them to participate by submitting more such slogans. In the unlikely case that this plan doesn’t meet with approval of the experts, close the camps for the season. Maybe things will be better next year and lives will have been saved (if not their souls).

  • avram

    People are always “fighting the previous battle – preparing for a re-enactment of the last security breach they heard on the news, such as an armed “lone wolf”.
    An objective assessment of likely threats is hard to do. For example, IMHO, North American Jewish organizations have not thought out a scenario where there is a multi-day power outrage in the entire region, such as from cyber-terrorism or an EMP. How will that affect the local Jew-haters looking for a scape goat? How will the Jews be able to respond to, say to neighborhood thugs throwing rocks, spraying hate graffiti or starting fist fights when the local police is overwhelmed and/or unreachable? That’s not to negate the risk of an armed terrorist taking advantage of the chaos…
    Does the camp staff rely entirely on cell phones (and the power grid) for communication, instead of say, walkie talkies?
    I’m afraid the kids need some operational training/drills too, such as martial arts when forced to deal with a lone thug and how to take cover when faced with overwhelming force.
    Kinds can’t bee too sheltered these days.

  • Security is always on the minds of Jewish camp professionals. In the past week, Foundation for Jewish Camp hosted over 300 camp directors for a training webinar with the Secure Community Network and Department of Homeland Security. A current threat briefing was provided as well as insights into preparedness, safety and security issues specific to day and overnight camps in preparation for Summer 2015.

    Summer camps are not immune from potential security incidents and face unique safety and security challenges Each year camp professionals spend significant time reviewing and updating their security plans, procedures and trainings. Camps receive additional training from local partners and develop networks with other camps in their surrounding areas and local law enforcement to share information.

    Given the concerning increase in anti-Semitic activities abroad, particularly targeting Jewish communities in Europe, as well as incidents of anti-Semitism, suspicious activity and in some cases violent attacks against Jewish institutions here in the U.S., keeping our campers safe is an utmost priority.

    • avram

      Did you discuss preparing for a possible prolonged power outage at that meeting of 300 camp directors? Thanks

  • Delilah007

    Approximately 20 years ago when both my children were in Jewish day schools and Jewish camps sleepover and day camps for a couple of years I remember we had to have special decals on our cars to get into the JCC area or any area involving them. it passed without any problem so to say that we don’t involve ourselves in their safety is a misnomer
    Sadly what is the fact is that even if we do this and other concerns that might even seem prison like, if someone wants to accomplish something they’ll accomplish it really how do you protect the children or anyone for that matter?

  • steven L

    Why would camps be different from schools?

  • Yosef

    Monitoring of roads and paths in, via guards and/or cameras will help. Trained and armed staff members is needed for immediate response. Small pistols are easy to conceal. When seconds count, police will be there in minutes. Secure facilities for weapons/ammo and a zero alcohol policy when armed are also essential. Having chugim (activities) that involve rifle marksmanship promote a climate of security and confidence. Also a source of defensive weapons, even if only a few bolt action .22 rifles to keep terrorists from going from cabin to cabin. Of course a couple of semi-automatic rifles with greater penetrating capacity eg .308 with standard capacity magazines would help penetrate vehicles and cabins if staff were properly trained. If terrorists strike a Reform camp, whose movement supports disarming law-abiding civilians to prevent “gun violence” security plans should include posting “Gun-Free zone” signs and include protocols to sing Kumbaya, Shema and offer terrorists jobs as well as opportunities to air their grievances.