Several hundred people, including preschoolers and high school students, were evacuated from the West Bloomfield Jewish Community Center today after the facility received a telephone bomb threat at 11:15 a.m.
According to JCC CEO Brian Siegel, emergency protocol went into effect immediately, including notifying police and fire department emergency responders and beginning an orderly, systematic evacuation of the building. While he could not disclose details about the threatening telephone call, Siegel said it was consistent with other bomb threats received by approximately 30 Jewish community centers across the country in recent days.
“Our first priority is always the safety of our invitees, our children, our members and guests, and our staff,” said Siegel, who has been in touch with other JCCs that received similar threats to ensure that best practices and optimum safety protocol have been followed. “With the help of [West Bloomfield Police] Chief Patton, we are very proud of how we handled this.”
The approximately 200 students who attend the Frankel Jewish Academy high school, located within the JCC, were sent to the soccer field behind the building while bomb squad personnel and canine teams inspected the facility. The students were then taken inside the inline hockey center on the west side of the building while the canine teams searched the cars in the parking lot. Once the lots were cleared for safety, the students were dismissed.
Although the announcement instructing the students to evacuate the building did not include a reason, the students quickly turned to their cell phones and learned about the bomb threat.
FJA student Eric Lipsky of West Bloomfield, said the school and the JCC handled the situation well, keeping the students calm during the evacuation process.
“The worst part was waiting outside in the cold,” he said.
Dylan Backalar of Farmington Hills was also impressed with the demeanor of the staff and the other students.
“It made me proud to be at this school,” he said.
All of the students who spoke to the JN in the JCC parking lot agreed they had not been scared by the bomb threat.
“It’s a shame these terrorist organizations are making these threats,” said Jason Teper of Farmington Hills. “They do this to make us scared, but we’re not scared.”
This incident was one of an estimated 30 bomb threats received by Jewish community centers across the country, 16 of which were made today. No bombs were found in any of the facilities that received the threats.
Chief Michael Patton of the West Bloomfield Police Department said his staff collaborated with bomb squad personnel and canine units from other municipalities to ensure the investigation was swift and efficient. He said his department would provide a security presence at the JCC for the remainder of the day.
“The threat is probably low, but it’s never zero,” Patton said.
The JCC received the all-clear and reopened the building at 2:05 p.m. Wednesday.
Story by Ronelle Grier, JN contributing writer
Photos by Rudy Thomas