Issac Ashkenazi, a renowned international expert on disaster management and community resilience, led a security briefing on preparing for and responding to urban mass casualty incidents at the Jewish United Fund on Aug. 4.
Officials representing over 25 agencies, ranging from FEMA to the Chicago Police Department, attended the lecture. The briefing was part of an ongoing cooperation between JUF, the Jewish Community Relations Council and the Consulate General of Israel to the Midwest.
Ashkenazi's lecture focused on six topics: extremism, terrorism, community resilience, mass shootings, responding to mass casualty incidents, and the importance of active bystanders.
Ashkenazi encouraged agencies to work together to address urban terrorism in a speedy and synchronized manner. He also stressed the importance of building community resilience after attacks by restoring life to normal in affected areas as soon as possible.
"If a bus explodes, we take it out within three hours," Ashkenazi said. "In Israel, we don't want to leave the scene out for everyone to see. The objective of a terrorist attack is to convince the public that their government can't protect them. The millions who are watching TV, seeing graphic images on TV after attacks - we want them to see the first responders have taken care of it."
Active bystanders have played a critical role in saving lives in several major terrorist attacks, such as the 2004 subway bombings in Madrid. Israeli children learn from a young age to be active bystanders during crisis situations through encouragement and first aid training in schools, according to Ashkenazi.
"In Israel, people like to confront problems," Ashkenazi said. "It is contagious. People want to be helpers. I helped prepare Rio de Janeiro for the Olympics for four years. Every time they told me, 'Issac, we need more ambulances, let's pour more money into this,' I said, 'No. There is no need for ambulances and more stuff.' We just have to give citizens the skills to help us and be part of the effort. Bystanders are an asset, not an obstacle."
Ashkenazi is an adjunct professor at Emory University, the University of Georgia and Ben-Gurion University in Israel. Ashkenazi is the former director of Harvard University's Urban Terrorism Preparedness Project and previously served as a surgeon general in the Israel Defense Forces. He has represented the IDF and Israel during humanitarian missions across Asia, Africa, South America and Europe.