In the wake of numerous threats to Jewish Community Centers around the country – including the two JCCs in the Twin Cities, the Sabes JCC hired Lon White to be the security and resiliency senior counsel at the Sabes JCC. White has also been engaged with the St. Paul JCC leadership team as well. White had worked as a volunteer on the JCC’s Emergency and Safety team for the last five years while he worked on the global security and resiliency team at Target Corp. Who The Folk is Lon White?!
How did you get into the security work you do now?
When I graduated from college, I started working in state government as a lobbyist. I enjoyed some of the challenges and complexities of government and policy, but I hated lobbying. This was right before September 11, . And then September 11 happens, and all of the work that our clients were coming to our firm for had shifted to more complex contingency planning. We were a public affairs and strategy firm. A lot of it became more focused on crisis communications and crisis management. This was a really interesting niche. I got further into it, and over the course of the next five years, got to work on some really cool crisis management kind of work. It’s the kind of stuff where something would happen and our team would swing into action. We decided to come to Minneapolis and I took a job in global security at Target, which fit my background and a lot of what I was already doing. I had an opportunity to work on complex global issues. I worked with a lot of federal agencies, the FBI, and secret service. All kinds of stuff you wouldn’t think Target would deal with.
How do things like the Arab Spring relate to Target?
I’ll give you an example: Let’s say your sweatshirt is made of 100 percent Egyptian cotton. That is procured by a sourcing office Target has in Cairo to find Egyptian cotton for the stores. Those are 14 or 15 U.S. citizens working under a visa a mile from where the largest Middle Eastern protest outside of Syria is happening; they now have to be relocated to a safe State Department hotel and accounted for. All the computers have to be remote-wiped in case the office is broken into. You’re talking about human safety and intellectual property being jeopardized, it’s a hugely complex thing. It’s interconnectivity with the Federal government, what is the State Department plan for citizens abroad living in a country that could be in civil war. That kind of stuff.
How did you get involved at the JCC?
For the last seven years, I’ve volunteered here as a security adviser. With everything that’s happened the last several months we saw a need to formalize it and advance things beyond what we’ve done before. Really looking long term: security strategy not just operationally.
Is it hard to give answers to things you can’t give answers to?
I’m asked what have I done so far and what will I be doing. Generally, we want to enhance our infrastructure, our technology capability, our team-member training so we are effective as possible. Cameras and notification systems are easily explainable. But I won’t go too into the details because we have to be mindful of what we share. We want to keep certain things to ourselves.
Does it feel like a different field because it’s not working for a multi-national company?
From a job standpoint, it’s in the same field, but it feels like a bit of a departure because it’s not the corporate life. It’s less hustle and bustle and the scope is different, but my goal is the same: Apply the best of what a global entity or a large diversified complex org does to a place like this. The best experiences I’ve gotten is the benchmarking experiences with other places.
As things improve, what’s your thought on visible vs. less visible surveillance?
You want your program so advanced that you strike the perfect balance of hidden and overt. This place is a community place. You want it to be as welcoming and positive place as possible. We want to maintain that. We also want to apply a fortress mentality as much as we can that doesn’t interfere with the community element. What are you doing that’s very visible that may or may not serve a functional purpose but is still important, versus what other things you have. That other stuff is more important to be really well thought out and executed. That’s where I’m working to bring enhanced capabilities and a deeper level of sophistication so there’s a well-orchestrated machine behind the scenes powering the security operation. This isn’t reactionary; this is more about applying the best practices of safety and security that major organizations that do it really well do, and applying it here. I’m bringing the philosophy that Disney World uses to protect the biggest entertainment complex in the world. It’s the same model we want to institute here, to fit our needs and the size of our campus.
How much harder does social media make things in the realm you work in?
Very. Reputation management is a big thing in crisis management. If photos go viral and messages go viral, or people share things, you start to lose control of the message or the situation. Imagine someone sends out a tweet that something happened at the JCC and people start to see it before they hear it from official sources. That’s when places get bombarded with phone calls they may not be in a position to support, and that’s where things become challenging. We’ve tried to do some of this, where we help parents, for example, understand they need to have a really good filter about sharing information broadly. For example, when we evacuated for the bomb threat, we don’t want people to announce we evacuated to “Location X” because that is a dead giveaway where everyone is heading and we want to cloak that stuff. We’ve discussed that with the leadership team, a social media monitoring and education plan.
Do the ECC or Day School parents you’ve talked to understand that?
The bomb threat was very unsettling for a lot of people and it raised a lot of questions for people that we want to be as patient and supportive in trying to help them understand as possible. By and large, people have been understanding and supportive, but there are a lot of questions about why things work a certain way. We’re trying to be more proactive in communicating these things and thought processes. We’re trying to show people it’s an active process. The biggest challenge is to provide emotional support. I’ve never had to do that before. We’ve probably done three months of questions. We’re not going to shut you down.
Is it hard to separate your role as security person from the parent of an ECC student?
I’ve been working on security here for seven-ish years and crisis management for nearly 20 years. That was the first time my son was in a crisis I was dealing with. I picked him up at the backup site like everyone else. That was eye opening to me. But doing what I do and knowing what I know, I never felt like it wasn’t safe here. I always felt like he was in the safest place he could be. You do it long enough, you separate the ability to go home and sleep at night and not just worry, worry, worry.
The important thing to remember, in a situation like that, no matter how much you plan for it, it’s still going to be chaotic. It’s going to be unpredictable. There’s going to be a lot of stuff that happens that you can’t plan for. In the industry, you hope for the best and plan for the worst. But you can’t account for every, single variable. In a place like this that has hugely complicated logistical hurdles that a lot of places don’t. We’re a school, a childhood center, a senior center, a health club, a special needs academy, a community center, a movie theater, an auditorium. We’re everything. We have to look at the big picture. There are certain things we can factor for and we’ll just keep trying to identifying for. We’ll just be ready for. More than 500 people left the building. The faculty and staff here did exactly what they were supposed to.
What’s your most interesting security story you can share?
My grandmother lives in Florida and my dad, he’s there probably 70 percent of the time. Her oxy prescription starts to run low every week. My dad doesn’t understand it. We talk and we realize someone is taking it. We set up a sting. I have all the footage (Editor’s note: I’ve seen it, and it’s awesome). We caught two people. It’s a prosecutable, Class 3 felony in Florida. There was a drop ceiling. The medications were kept in the kitchen. We took out a smoke detector and dropped in a surveillance camera smoke detector into the tile. It just looks the smoke detector with a pinhole camera.
I’m never going to look at smoke detectors the same way.
The maintenance man would let himself in every day. The second one was a nurse. We did that a couple years ago and closed two cases. If you’re taking drugs from us we’re going to figure out who’s doing it. You’re messing with the wrong little old lady. The maintenance guy figured it out. You could see him turn white [and panic]. If you think about your deterrence you can stop this from happening or catch them in the act. That’s the same level of thinking I’m trying to bring here.
Favorite Jewish holiday?
I think Hanukkah, with kids, is fun. But I’ve come to appreciate the High Holidays because of the Bet Shalom ceremony, they do a really good children’s program. The kids love going because of the music and environment. I’ve come to appreciate it in a way I never have before.
Favorite Jewish food?
My mom’s brisket. And coming from New York originally, going to get bagels with lox and good corned beef sandwich with matzah ball soup and a Dr. Brown’s Black Cherry. that’s what I remember growing up as a kid.