||Many people view the "War on Terrorism" as a function of the police, emegency services, the intelligence community, and the military. Though it is true that all public safety and national security resources play a vital role in combatting terrorism, effectively winning the "War on Terrorism" requires everyone's participation. From housewives and clergymen to waitresses and store clerks, everyone plays an important role in preventing and responding to terrorist attacks.
The following sections describe some of the many things that citizens can do to aid our local and national effort to win the "War on Terrorism."
1. Observe and Report Suspicious Activity
What should citizens be looking for with regard to "suspicious activity?" Addressing these questions requires an understanding of how Al-Qaida and other affiliated threat groups operate and how terrorist attacks are planned and executed. By assessing the terrorist's modus operandi, we can identify many observable activities or events that can indicate a potential terrorist attack. In the anti-terrorism community, these types of observable activities are referred to as "threat indicators." Any notice of these activities should be reported to police and promptly investigated.
When many people think of suspicious activity, they tend to think of suspicious looking men entering and leaving an apartment at unusual hours or overhearing words like "bomb" or "anthrax" in a suspicious conversation. These types of public sightings have, on a number of occasions, led authorities to uncovering terrorist plots. However, there are many other types of activities or circumstances that can suggest the potential for a terrorist attack. Most of these indicators relate to the terrorist's gathering of target intelligence, the acquisition of materials necessary for an attack, preparation of bombs or chemical/biological weapons, and the first steps of executing an attack (bomb delivery, gaining access to a plane, etc.).
All terrorist operations are preceded by a process of intelligence gathering. This often involves conducting reconnaissance visits or stationary surveillance of a target for weeks or even months. Citizens are often in an excellent position to recognize threat indicators associated with target surveillance. For example, a waitress in a diner may notice that two men who come in every morning always request a seat by a certain window. The same two men stay for a long time and seem more interested in activity outside of the window than talking. Whenever they do talk, they become quiet when someone approaches their table or the men quickly change their topic of discussion. This type of activity should be regarded as highly suspicious (especially if the window provides a view of an ideal terrorist target, such as a government building, shopping mall, or symbolic commercial building). People who loiter for very long periods of time, people who seem to take strong interest in a particular facility or building, or anyone who seems self-conscious or nervous while photographing or videotaping a location should be regarded as suspicious.
Citizens who work in locations that sell or store possible bomb making materials or items that can be used in manufacturing chemical or biological weapons should be aware of suspicious purchases or thefts. Many items commonly used in making bombs or chemical weapons are openly sold in hardware stores, pharmacies, garden stores, hobby shops, and electronics stores. For example, hardware clerks should be aware of anyone purchasing threaded pipes and end caps, gas canisters, large quantities of pesticides, ammonia nitrate fertilizers, etc. Employees in drug stores should be suspicious of anyone purchasing unusual quantities of isopropanol or DMSO. Pharmacists should also note suspicious inquiries or thefts of antibiotics, atropine, fentanyl medications, or other drugs used as chemical agent precursors or used to treat chemical or biological agent exposure. To recognize suspicious purchases and thefts, citizens need to know what items are located in their workplace that have value in terrorist applications.
The public should also be aware of threat indicators related to the preparation and delivery of terrorist weapons. For example, many terrorist groups acquire vehicles for bomb attacks by theft or rental. As a result, people who work for vehicle rental companies should be aware of anyone renting a utility van or truck that appears vague or suspicious about its purpose. Additionally, police and the public should be aware of any unusual thefts of large-size vehiclesparticularly trucks that were empty at the time they were stolen. Thieves-for-profit normally steal large vehicles for the cargo, not the vehicle itself. From the terrorist's perspective, getting rid of a stolen vehicle's cargo is a risky inconvenience.
Landlords and citizens should also be aware of unusual activities around apartments or rental properties. For instance, an apartment tenant may notice unusual petroleum or acidic smells coming from a neighbor's apartment, or an employee in a rental storage complex may notice 55-gal drums being moved in or out of a rental space. These are both examples of the types of subtle indicators that ordinary citizens may observe.
Companies that may be targeted by terrorists should also be aware of special threat indicators. In addition to activities associated with intelligence collection, items such as the theft of employee identity cards, access key cards, or vehicle stickers should be promptly investigated. Terrorists frequently steal or forge these types of identity items to gain access to protected facilities. The unusual disappearance or murder of a facility employee is another potential threat indicator. There are a number of documented cases where terrorists have kidnapped or killed facility employees for their credentials or clothing uniforms. In Northern Ireland and the Middle East, terrorists have even taken families hostage to coerce a member of the family (often a facility employee) to deliver a bomb by proxy.
For more information about suspicious activity, click the following links:
Tampa Bay Port and Marine Security Bulletin (PDF)
DHS Bulletin: Indicators of Al-Qaeda Surveillance
There are many opportunities to volunteer your services as an aid in the War on Terrorism. Organizations such as the American Red Cross, the Salvation Army, and various charities are always looking for volunteers to assist their local programs. These organizations play an important role in providing relief and assistance to victims of terrorist attacks. For those who desire a more direct role, many Tampa Bay area law enforcement agencies and fire departments have auxiliary programs for civilian volunteers.
See the links on the right side of this page for a list of organizations and agencies with public volunteer programs.
In addition to voluteering your time, donate blood to local blood banks. Under new homeland security requirements, local hospitals in Tampa Bay are required to maintain a five-day supply of blood. With a large amount of blood being diverted to the military to support the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, many local blood banks are in urgent need of donors.
3. Prepare Youself and Your Family
Perhaps the most important thing you can do to aid the War on Terrorism is prepare yourself and your family to respond safely in the event of a terrorist attack. This requires knowing what to do in different types of situations and developing a family disaster plan.
SafeTampa.com has an entire section devoted to the important issue of personal and family preparation for terrorist events. Click here to access the Citizen's Guide to Terrorism Preparedness.
This essay was prepared by Craig Gundry and K.C. Poulin of Critical Intervention Services. Mr. Gundry, the Vice President of Special Projects for CIS, is a security consultant with over 13 years experience in anti-terrorism and weapon of mass destruction issues. Mr. Poulin is the President of Critical Intervention Services and a frequent lecturer on terrorism preparedness.
||To Report Suspicious Activity
If you observe suspicious activity, report the incident immediately to police or contact the Tampa FBI office at 813-273-4566.
American Red Cross
Tampa Office: (877)741-1444
Tampa Office: (813) 972-0471
Florida Hwy Patrol Auxiliary
Florida Blood Services
- Brandon: (813) 661-4528
- Clearwater: (727) 568-5433
- Largo: (727) 544-5050
- Pinellas Park: (727) 541-2644
- Plant City: (813) 752-7638
- St. Petersburg: (727) 568-5433
- Tampa Main: (813) 903-2600