JCC MetroWest reopens after bomb threat
Children kept safe next door before cautious police give all-clear signal
December 3, 2012
A bomb threat forced a two-hour evacuation of the JCC MetroWest on Monday, Dec. 4.
West Orange police notified Alan Feldman, executive director of the JCC, shortly after 10 a.m.
They were soon followed by several emergency squad officers wearing protective gear, and later, by three bomb-sniffing dogs and their handlers from the Newark Police Department.
More than 200 children, ranging in age from infants and toddlers in the JCC’s Kid Care babysitting program to five-year-olds in pre-school, were taken next door to facilities at the Jewish Community Housing Corporation.
Shortly after noon, police gave an “all clear” sign and people were allowed to return. At 12:27 p.m., JCC members were notified by email that the building had reopened.
“Everyone was evacuated from the building,” said Feldman. “We have an emergency evacuation plan for all of our children. Everyone else left the building as in a fire procedure.”
According to Feldman, “we pretty much had a calm populace of people exiting the building,” noting that some people left the facilities’ health club wearing gym clothes, towels, and bathing suits. “We were fortunate that it was a nice day and even more fortunate that it was a safe situation for everybody.”
Almost simultaneously, a second bomb threat was issued at the Roosevelt Middle School, a public school in West Orange two and a half miles away.
A spokesperson for the West Orange police said “the matter is under investigation.”
The JCC alerted its members via email about the evacuation shortly after 11 a.m., alluding only to an “emergency situation.” Recipients seeking more information were urged to call a phone number, which in turn provided no details of the situation.
On Facebook and via email, meanwhile, conversations and speculation quickly sprung up about the nature of the “emergency.”
“We were in the middle of an emergency and we had a responsibility to notify our parents that something had gone on with their kids,” Feldman explained. “In today’s world they all knew about it from Facebook and text messaging before we were able to get to them. That is what the email was about. In terms of the phone number, it could have been a problem with the phone system. It was something we had to do remotely because we were not allowed in the building while the bomb-sniffing dogs were here.”
Melissa Allen, the JCC’s director of marketing, said the center has not had a bomb threat since in at least 20 years.
“We have a very close relationship with the FBI, Homeland Security, and the West Orange police,” said Feldman. “Since the recent events in Israel, the West Orange police have increased their presence here, and what happened today will have them increase their patrol presence even further. That gives me and others a great deal of confidence in our safety.”
Allen, whose children attend JCC afterschool programs, added, “I have a sense of security that they will be safe. We are OK here."
Statement by JCC Executive Director Alan Feldman
As you may already know, at approximately 10:15 am, the West Orange Police informed us of a phone call they received announcing a dual bomb threat - at the Roosevelt School (in West Orange) and at JCC MetroWest. I am thankful and reassured to inform you that at approximately 12:20 pm we received the "All Clear!" and our facilities and programs were re-opened.
Immediately upon receipt of notice from the police, we evacuated our building. In accordance with our emergency plans, all of our Preschool students were moved to our next door neighbor's facilities at the Jewish Community Housing Corporation (JCHC) building. The JCHC staff was gracious and accommodating and made us feel welcome in their facility. Our early childhood staffs are to be commended for their sure-handed tranquility, as they engaged our preschool children during this episode. Our children were smiling, happy and unruffled as they participated in games, singing, storytelling and other activities.
We appreciate the cooperation of all of our members who were affected by the evacuation of our facilities. Your understanding, cooperation and willingness to follow the directions of our staff helped to guarantee everyone's safety and security. We similarly praise the work of the staff of the JCC who provided needed support to older adults, individuals with mobility issues, children and the general public in assisting their exit from the building and their comfort - to whatever degree possible - once outside.
Please know that we have no further information regarding the threat, as this extremely unusual circumstance is currently the subject of a law enforcement investigation. We owe a debt of gratitude to the West Orange Police and the Essex County Sheriff's Office for their timely, comprehensive and competent response and support.
Having already increased regular patrols through our property in the past several weeks, the West Orange Police will be further increasing their surveillance of our facilities, effective immediately. We want to express our heartfelt gratitude to all of our area's first responders who supported our efforts to assure a composed response to this incident.
If you have any questions, please contact me at AFeldman@jccmetrowest.org or at 973-530-3988.