'Key to saving lives is how you respond in 1st few seconds'

As demand spikes, donor to buy Israeli emergency help system for Jewish institutions

Jewish philanthropist pledges $1 million to fund installation, training of security software for Jewish schools, synagogues in wake of Texas attack

Ricky Ben-David is a Times of Israel editor and reporter

SWAT team members deploy near Congregation Beth Israel, a synagogue in Colleyville, Texas, on January 15, 2022.(Andy Jacobsohn/AFP)
SWAT team members deploy near Congregation Beth Israel, a synagogue in Colleyville, Texas, on January 15, 2022.(Andy Jacobsohn/AFP)

An Israeli startup that created a “smart panic button” for crisis management during violent incidents like school shootings and terror attacks has seen demand for its advanced security software rise significantly in recent years among companies and organizations in the private sector.

Yoni Sherizen, the co-founder of Gabriel Network (formerly Blue Systems), told The Times of Israel on Tuesday that the company’s security and safety system, Gabriel, has already been rolled out across a double-digit number of Jewish institutions in the US such as synagogues and community centers over the past three years, and that the company has been expanding to “Christian communities and [other] non-Jewish communities” as well as business and industry in North America.

“Our product is now being adopted by the banking and financial services sector and we have some pilots with some of the biggest technology companies, the Big 5,” said Sherizen, in reference to the five largest tech companies: Google, Amazon, Meta (Facebook), Apple, and Microsoft. “So we’re looking at data centers, corporate offices or campuses, manufacturing facilities for pharmaceuticals and other essential goods… [we’re] protecting a whole variety of different types of spaces.”

Sherizen, a US-born former rabbi who immigrated to Israel from the UK over a decade ago, founded Gabriel Network with his Israeli colleague Asaf Adler and together they created Gabriel, inspired by the biblical guardian angel of the same name. It’s a panic-button system equipped with sensors, a camera and a microphone that can be installed in buildings and structures to monitor potential incidents, alert first responders to an emergency at a specific location, open up a communication channel with the responders and other security teams that may be at the scene, and give all parties “eyes and ears” to follow unfolding events, according to the company.

In the wake of the attack earlier this month at a synagogue in Colleyville, Texas, where a gunman held a rabbi and three congregants hostage for 11 hours before they managed to escape unharmed, a Jewish philanthropist has pledged to fund $1 million worth of installation, training and a year of service with the Gabriel system for every Jewish institution that wants it.

The sum should cover at-cost starter kits for the system for about 500 locations, according to the company’s estimates. The philanthropist, whose name has not been disclosed, promised to recruit friends to donate similar gifts with the goal of covering every synagogue, school and campus community in the US, said Sherizen.

Yoni Sherizen, left, and Asaf Adler, the co-founders of Gabriel Network (formerly Blue Systems Ltd.), which created the Gabriel “smart panic button” to reduce chaos in school shootings, emergencies (Courtesy)

Gabriel Network’s technology rests on a security software platform that includes a smart sensor, a command dashboard, and mobile app to provide integrated video and audio for emergency responses, according to the company.

The system includes gunshot detection sensing, weapons detection, video and audio analytics, noise detection, hot zone mapping, geofencing, and other features that give emergency responders “eyes, ears, and a voice on site” so they can avoid “blind entry” into a situation.

“The tech is all around identifying threats or danger, alerting [emergency response providers] faster and responding both faster and also smarter. We developed a unique sensor that was our endpoint. Now we extended beyond that; we’re connecting into existing systems that are already in the building, whether it’s sensors or cameras, and we are layering our software over it. We even take legacy systems and work to make them smarter to identify trouble sooner,” Sherizen said.

Gabriel comes with two apps: one for those on location — alerting them to what is happening and where, mapping out danger areas, and enabling communication with others on the premises to share information and video footage; and a second app, the emergency responder app, which creates a virtual command and control room for the teams approaching the area.

The Gabriel security platform developed by Israeli startup Gabriel Systems (formerly Blue Systems). (Courtesy)

The price for a basic Gabriel kit varies, with starting costs at about $90 per month if there are already existing cameras in a given building. Costs for a complete kit, which includes additional features, are higher.

Sherizen and Adler developed the idea behind the Gabriel system following a 2016 terror attack in Tel Aviv’s popular Sarona Market that killed four people, and a mass shooting that same year at a nightclub in Florida where 49 people were murdered.

“These kinds of incidents generate chaos, and a key to saving lives is how people on the ground respond in the first few seconds of the unfolding events, even before the police arrive,” he previously told The Times of Israel.

A law enforcement vehicle is seen near the Congregation Beth Israel synagogue on January 16, 2022, in Colleyville, Texas. (Brandon Bell/Getty Images/AFP)

In the announcement on Tuesday, Sherizen, a former campus rabbi at Oxford University who then volunteered at a number of Jewish communal organizations in the US, Europe and Israel, said that the company “saw the ability to democratize technology that was previously only available to special units, and put these life-saving tools in the hands of people who need them most. Improving preparedness and delivering a safer, smarter and faster response.”

During the phone interview, he said that “probably where we’ve seen the biggest uptick in our technology is where we provide that live video and connectivity to law enforcement and anyone who needs to respond, so we can actually provide remote response, getting people help before anyone else turns up on-site. And that is particularly interesting for places like banks or sensitive places where things happen that can endanger not only the property but the people and… responders,” said Sherizen.

The Gabriel smart panic button, created by Gabriel Network (formerly Blue Systems Ltd.), is equipped with sensors, a camera and a microphone that can be installed in rooms at an institution, giving first responders eyes and ears to unfolding events (Courtesy)

The Gabriel system is particularly valuable in more complex incidents, Sherizen offered. “If an incident becomes prolonged, if it gets complicated or there’s a hostage situation, the risk and cost and damage and danger just spike. And what we are able to do is stop… the chaos from taking over a situation. By being able to intervene remotely and faster, you can put an end to these situations much faster, and even spot them before they become really significant,” he said.

An emergency alert at one location can also trigger alerts at related locations.

“We leverage a network effect, so if something is happening in one location, we alert other locations nearby, either geographically or if there’s a relationship. So for example, if we look at what happened in Pittsburgh [when a terrorist killed 11 people at the Tree of Life synagogue in November 2018], on that day, the attacker actually planned on hitting multiple locations but was injured from the SWAT team at the synagogue. He actually planned on hurting other people, and we’ve seen this in other situations. So we send out a notification to everyone on the platform, either because they’re nearby or there’s a relationship…so there might be copycat attacks in other cities, and Jewish communities would need to know,” he said.

Flower pots, each with a name of one of the 11 worshippers killed on October 27, 2018, when a gunman opened fire as worship services began at the Tree of Life Synagogue, line the fence surrounding the synagogue on October 26, 2019, in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

In Colleyville, “this time, thank God, everyone came out unharmed, physically. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case, and we want to take action before the next one,” said Sherizen.

In the wake of the attack, Jewish communities have been looking for ways to step up security, with 1,500 worried Jewish leaders dialing in last week to a Zoom meeting to ask US Attorney General Merrick Garland and Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas what steps the government was taking to offer protection.

Synagogues and Jewish institutions in the US have looking to beef up their security in recent years as concerns over antisemitism grow.

According to an annual review published Monday by the World Zionist Organization and the Jewish Agency, antisemitism has been on the rise globally. 2021 was recorded as “the most antisemitic year in the last decade” with more than 10 incidents per day.

The incidents mostly included vandalism and property destruction, graffiti and the desecration of monuments. Physical and verbal violence accounted for less than a third of all antisemitic incidents.

On another note, Sherizen said the Gabriel system was also very useful at identifying false alarms, or situations that at first seem alarming but ultimately don’t require an emergency response.

“Our system’s ability to stop false alarms and prevent a huge distraction, panic, and waste of public resources, has saved lives. The cost of false alarms, in dollars and cents, but also disruption, is a big deal and I’m very proud of that.”

The firm’s team of advisers includes Ram Ben-Barak, a former deputy director at the Mossad, Israel’s secret service; Yohanan Danino, a former Israeli police chief; Kobi Mor, a former Shin Bet security service director of overseas missions and current global director of security at Teva; and Ryan Petty, the father of a Parkland school shooting victim, according to the website.

Gabriel Network employs seven people and is backed by private investors, said Sherizen. Its R&D operations are in Israel, where the local “tech brain is phenomenal,” with sales, marketing, and commercialization activities in the US.

Shoshanna Solomon contributed to this report

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