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Jewish centers hire security director

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OVERLAND PARK, Kan. -- Five months after a deadly shooting spree at Jewish centers in Johnson County, the Jewish community has hired a security director.

While Jews prepare to celebrate Rosh Hashanah Wednesday evening, increased security measures are in place at the Jewish Community Campus.

The upgrades are part of recommendations that came out of April's shooting incidents at the Jewish Community Center and Village Shalom.

The Jewish high holidays bring more attention to Jewish centers and can prompt more threats against the Jewish community.

Since April's shooting incident that left two dead at the Jewish Community Campus, new security upgrades are underway to make it a harder place to attack.

Among the most obvious, a uniformed off-duty Overland Park police officer stands outside the entrance during all hours of operation.

The Jewish Federation also has hired a security director. Blair Hawkins has extensive experience working for the U.S. State Department, providing security for foreign heads-of-state in multiple countries.

"There will be upgrades here that they won't even notice," Hawkins said. "They have taken place. There are other upgrades that are readily seen. But it will still be a friendly inviting environment and as multi-layered, through cordons of security from the outside working in. It includes police officers; it includes private security, as well as other features I would rather not discuss."

Hawkins also will work with Village Shalom to improve security at the retirement community. His services are available to the entire Jewish community, including synagogues. Those who come to the J.C.C. regularly have noticed some differences. And the CEO of the Jewish Federation says more people feel at ease as a result.

"Everyone has a comfort level because of the security that they have seen," said Todd Stettner, president and CEO of the Jewish Federation. "But we don't want people to get complacent either, and we are going to be looking at other kinds of things to make the facility even more secure that will involve the public as well."

Hiring a security director is one of several recommendations to come from a federal Department of Homeland Security threat assessment conducted after the shooting incidents. It's impossible to prevent every threat, but the Jewish Federation vows not to take safety for granted.