Safe and Sound: HBHA Implements New Security Measures



Elana Goldenberg

Each school year brings an array of new things with it: new pencils, new shoes, new teachers, and even new carpet. At Hyman Brand Hebrew Academy (HBHA), this list would not be complete without the addition of new security measures around the school, as well as some at the Jewish Community Campus in Overland Park, Kan. These changes were prompted by the April 2014 shooting at the Jewish Community Center because, according to Headmaster Howard Haas, “…there’s nothing more important than protecting our children.”

The most prominent of these features can be seen by HBHA students each day when they enter and leave school. Concrete protective pillars, called bollards, were recently placed in the front entrance to prevent people from driving cars up to the front doors. Boulders in the grass add both beauty and protection to the building. A uniformed police officer stands on the curb during drop-off and pick-up every day for extra security. If necessary, the Overland Park Police Department will send more officers to the campus throughout the day “if there is an incident in the world regarding Jews,” said Haas. “It’s very important. They visit, we know them by name. It just helps with our relationship [with the police] for protection.”

Junior Leah Sosland (left) and senior Lainie Kaseff pose with the protective bollards at HBHA’s front entrance. Photo by Elana Goldenberg.

Some of the updated security measures are more about action rather than visible protection. The outdoor loudspeakers at school have been checked and lockdown drills will be happening regularly. Additionally, employees of all organizations on the campus must wear name tags at all times. The HBHA faculty and staff have also been informed about the importance of keeping doors closed in the building. As simple as this action is, “it’s very easy to forget,” added Haas, “but nothing is more important.”

Overseeing these changes is the new Director of Community Security Blair Hawkins. Hawkins was hired nine months ago by the campus to ensure the safety of everyone. With 30 years of experience in law enforcement and intelligence, Hawkins has a clear idea of how to keep the community safe. Hawkins explains that the campus security plan has a “layered approach”; intelligence gathering, physical security, and education are all components.

“The layers start with first gathering intelligence,” says Hawkins, “so when we understand what the threats are, whether it’s from an anti-semitic group or a criminal group…we use that intelligence, and we look at the different kinds of crimes that are being committed and the kinds of organizations that are a threatening us and develop our security plan based on that.”

Hawkins continues, “We use physical security items like how we lockdown the building, alarms and alerts, how many security officers we have, where we put them…and how many police officers I have on duty at any given time…From an education standpoint, our education program is still in the beginning…and we have put on classes [mostly for campus employees] on surveillance detection, on how to determine if someone is in the parking lot watching you, what things to look for and how to avoid that.”

Due to changes occurring throughout the entire campus, HBHA has a more complex security system than other schools in the area. Haas explained, “Because we’re a Jewish institution, our security is tighter than other schools.” He added, “Before the murders, we were very lackadaisical [about security] and we felt nothing could ever happen in our community, so it was a wake-up call…We have to remember that there are people who just don’t like Jews. It’s been this way for the longest time. Hopefully, one day that will change.”

HBHA strives to be a nurturing community where children can benefit from a top-notch education. That said, the safety and well-being of the students will always be the first priority. Haas, the security team, and everyone at HBHA can all agree on the importance of safety. “The bottom line,” emphasized Haas, “is that we need to protect our children and ourselves.”