Mertz, one of seven law-enforcement officials from Greater Philadelphia, Southern New Jersey and Pennsylvania's Allegheny County selected for the April 12-18 program sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia and its Center for Israel and Overseas, is grateful to Federation and to U.S. Security Care, Inc., which helped to underwrite costs, for hosting this trip. He believes that "there is no way that a person traveling to Israel on their own could see what we saw and experience all that we experienced."
According to Robin Schatz, Federation's government-affairs director, the mission's purpose is two-fold. "Mission participants learn how to make America more secure and develop strong working relationships with their counterparts in Israel," she said.
Schatz credits Richard Wolfson, chairman and CEO of U.S. Security Care, Inc., with recognizing the importance of this program as a multifaceted educational and training tool. Wolfson feels that mission participants and their Israeli counterparts both derive benefits from the experience.
"Israel has been fighting this global war against terrorism for decades. The Homeland Security Mission allows our regional law enforcement and First Responder officials to see firsthand how the Israelis maintain a constant state of readiness. In addition, our regional officials have the opportunity to discuss with their Israeli counterparts the training methods and protocols that allow such a high level of preparedness," he said.
Wolfson and Schatz work together to review resumes and create a good cross-section of mission participants who, according to Wolfson, "might not know one another, but may need to work together should the region fall under a terrorist attack."
Wolfson explained that "this inter-agency collaborative spirit is nurtured in Israel through meetings with their Israeli counterparts to compare how the various Israeli agencies work together to maintain the public safety. He added that "while in Israel, mission participants have the opportunity to brainstorm with each other on ways to utilize the Israeli techniques to update their existing protocols back home."
Although the seeds of inter-agency cooperation are sown in Israel, the relationships solidify when they return home. "Once back in the region, they can assess their 'threat preparedness' based on their experiences in Israel," Wolfson commented, adding that "these shared experiences are the basis for friendships that lead to improved preparedness in our region."
Pennsylvania Gov. Edward G. Rendell is a big supporter of this mission.
"Israel's leadership in security preparedness and effectiveness is recognized worldwide," he said. "Now our security professionals have a unique opportunity to meet with key security officials in Israel, exchange information and receive hands-on experience to learn anti-terror security measures that can significantly benefit Pennsylvania's homeland-security programs."
The group's itinerary was action-packed, incorporating visits to historic and cultural sites with personal tours of key transportation and security operations in Jerusalem, Tel-Aviv, Haifa, Netivot, the Galilee and the Golan Heights.
One of the highlights of the trip for Mertz was the group's visit to Jerusalem's Old City.
"I gained a better understanding of how Israel's current war on terror traces its roots to thousands of years of history," he said. And "it was invaluable to have a guide accompany us as we toured the various quarters in this Holy City."
Mertz also found his visit to Masada — the ancient remains of fortifications and palaces on the eastern edge of the Judean Desert overlooking Israel's Dead Sea — to be memorable.
Moreover, mission tours of major security operations at Ben-Gurion airport in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem's Malcha Mall and certain border crossings throughout Israel further gave Mertz an understanding of Israel's full-scale involvement in making the nation safe and secure.
"It is gratifying to see both the public and private sector, and every Israeli citizen, invested in national security," he said.
Like Mertz, Bill Ryan, protective security advisor for the Philadelphia bureau of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, was impressed with his tour of the Malcha Mall and the presentation by the mall director on the state-of-the-art security measures utilized to ensure the safety of tenants and shoppers. Ryan also found fascinating his discussions with police officials stationed at Rachel Crossing, who discussed the security methods utilized at this and other checkpoints.
Ryan regularly makes presentations to staff and shared his experiences in Israel during one recent discussion. He believes that it was beneficial to get a "first-hand look" at how another country handles critical threats to national security.
On a personal note, he found it rewarding to tour the Jewish and Christian holy sites in Jerusalem's Old City. Yet it was the attitude of the Israeli people that impressed him the most: "Despite the daily threat of violence, they continue to lead full and active lives.
Tom Sullivan, director of Emergency Services for Montgomery County, thought the behind-the-scenes tour of the Emergency Operations Center in Haifa was particularly enlightening. "I left with a greater understanding of what residents of northern Israel experienced during last summer's war," he said.
During his trip to the airport in Tel Aviv, Sullivan discovered parallels between the problems that America and Israel encounter in fighting the way on terror: "Both nations find communications problems to be a key obstacle."
Sullivan considered it a real "privilege and honor to be included in such a great group of people on such a memorable trip," he said, adding that "I now see the news events in the Mideast in a far different light."
For information about the mission or future programs planned by Federation's Government Affairs Department, call Robin Schatz at 215-832-0654 or e-mail: [email protected]