The Jewish communities around the world had up until 1994 been spared from spectacular attacks with fatal consequences. In July 1994 the Jewish community in Buenos Aires became a victim of a terrorist attack. A car bomb exploded at the Community’s AMIA building. The bombing left 86 dead, hundreds wounded, and a city block looking like a war zone. The collapse of old building, buried dozens of people in the debris.The survivors had to climb over the rubble and escape by jumping to nearby terraces. This bombing was not only a blow to the heart of the Argenitinian Jewish community but to the Jewry around the world. The Community had no functioning Crisis Management organization with clear guidelines on how to act and how to organize themselves after a huge and devastating crisis. The Jewish Community of Buenos Aires is still suffering from the attack.
The AMIA Bombing immediate reaction of the community
This text is based on material written by the former head of CSO (Community Security Organization) in B.A. Community leaders: The first reaction of the community was a big confusion. They were not organized to deal with the many issues that emerged immediately after the attack. There was no order as to the priorities to be addressed. Prior relations with the security forces had not been sufficiently developed at all levels beforehand. The lack of a unified political leadership led to some actions which lacked coordination. Unaffected facilities had no contact with either the leadership or with authorities dealing with security issues. Initial lack of communication caused more confusion. Cell phones were not in common use at those times.
The CSO provided the security needs of the community. A new temporary headquarters was set up within the community. Meetings were held at these facilities with various officials, security forces and families of the dead and wounded. Contact was re-established with all the communal organizations for their safety needs. CSO formed and controlled the groups participating in the removal of debris. CSO coordinated the containment of relatives. Police coverage was established in all community facilities in the country within the first 24 hours of the event. Members of Organization provided hour security for approximately one week. They were also part of the rescue team, which removed debris from relevant areas. CSO was responsible for keeping safe all other Jewish facilities in the city and also for cooperation with local authorities. CSO has instructed and organized numerous safety briefings involving parents, staff, etc.
Conclusions: Following on from this experience; the community’s first emergency plan, the primary function was to ensure that the safety of the remaining communal locations. Due to the lack of the PEC, it took about 5 or 6 hours until a new headquarters was established. The community did not have a visible control to provide the necessary restraint. There were no blueprints of the affected site (they were lost in the attack) this could have prevented the removal of rubble when some of those who were killed could still have been alive. An alternative communications network with all members of the CSO and the various facilities was developed. (Beepers, cell phones).
AMIA bombing crisis brought also other aspects that needed to be solved by the community. Prior to the 1994 bombing, the institutional life of Jews in Argentina was little known outside the community itself. The leaders of AMIA were not publicly known leaders covered in the national news. The life of the community and its internal affairs were generally taken as private affairs.
The bombing changed that overnight. Suddenly, the details about the community became number one news and the leaders of the community became Argentinian public figures. They were quoted in daily press, their faces were known to the television audience. As nobody expected to become in such a crisis overnight, leaders had to face very hard situations dealing with political, leadership and communication challenges.
For the specific scale of this attack and for all that the communities could have learned from it, despite almost 20 years after the bombing, AMIA still brings a significant message of the necessity to be prepared to face the crisis situation.
Principles and Guidelines on Crisis Management, NJSC, Copenhagen.
A Glimmer of Hope: The AMIA Bombing, Five Years Later, Sergio Kiernan, http://www.ajc.org/site/apps/nlnet/content3.aspx?c=7oJILSPwFfJSG&b=8449859&ct=12485989