As the anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks approaches, nagging questions remain in the minds of some law-enforcement professionals:
- Are we, both as a nation and as a profession, really better prepared now to identify, diffuse and respond to a terrorist threat on U.S. soil?
- Has time dulled our edge of tactical awareness? Are we as alert now as we were years ago? Do we really need to be?
- What can we do as individuals and as an agency to better prepare and maintain preparedness?
Polls show many Americans believe another attack of some sort, potentially one using different methods than those seen Sept. 11 but likely just a devastating, could be brewing. Government reports indicate terrorist planning and chatter continues, and the possibility of an attack on domestic soil remains. So, to answer whether an acute level of terrorism awareness is really necessary, the answer is of course.
As far as national preparedness goes, that likely depends on whom you talk to and what you read. Obviously, many necessary changes in domestic security strategies have been implemented. Are we better prepared? Yes. Are we fully prepared? Probably not. Are we prepared enough? We don't know. But we do know one thing: Years of relative calm can reduce tactical awareness and even lead to complacency.
On Sept. 11, every law enforcement professional was keenly alert to any sign of terrorist threat. Your level of resolve to integrate counter-terrorism awareness into both your professional and personal lives peaked, and undoubtedly you want to maintain that level of awareness. But four years is a long time, and time can breed a false sense of security.
Now, years later, consider reevaluating your degree of terrorism awareness and, if necessary, reviving your level of threat perception. Do you remain alert to even the smallest terrorist indicators while on patrol? Do you practice when/then thinking to prepare for the possibility you may need to respond calmly, effectively and immediately to a mass emergency?
In this article, I will discuss several strategies you can implement regardless of your rank, experience or location to better prepare for and protect yourself and your community against terrorist activity.
Stay alert for routine crimes that can serve as red flags to possible terrorist planning. Vast quantities of dangerous and potentially deadly chemicals are lawfully used in the manufacture of common products, and terrorists could conceivably divert chemicals from manufacturing, transportation, storage and sales facilities in your area for a chemical-warfare attack.
If any of the following products are produced, stored or sold in large quantities in your sector, pay special attention to the facility while on patrol: bleaching products, chlorine products, cleaning solutions, crowd/riot control sprays, disinfectants, drain cleaners, dyes, fertilizers, fumigation products, fungicides, galvanizing solutions, herbicides, insecticides, pesticides, metal polishes, organic chemicals, pharmaceuticals, photographic solutions, plastics/polymers, solvents and weed killers.
Also, consider prowling reports, burglaries, thefts, missing inventory, suspicious new applicants for employment, etc., red-flag events and investigate immediately. And, take terrorist-activity reports seriously.
Finally, alert citizens can provide very valuable support to your protective efforts. Develop information-sharing relationships with local merchants, landlords and manufacturers that can yield quick alerts to suspicious persons and behavior. Ask merchants to remain alert for purchasing anomalies (like large purchases of potentially harmful products). Ask manufacturers to keep you abreast of any out-of-the-ordinary occurrences at their plants or within their staff. Ask landlords to stay alert for odd tenants and/or tenant behavior.
Establish a Family Plan
In a terrorist emergency, you will likely first think of the safety of your family. To bolster your confidence in their ability to protect themselves in an emergency situation and help you remain focused on your primary law-enforcement responsibilities, develop and rehearse an emergency plan with your spouse and, when appropriate, your children. Where should they go in an emergency? Who do they call? Should they try to contact you? Should they expect you will contact them? What should they not do? Prior planning will give you and them the confidence needed to remain calm and focused, and to take the steps necessary to remain safe.
Prepare Your Head
Mentally prepare yourself for a mass emergency to ensure you have an appropriate emotional response during a crisis. Mass confusion and fear, two extremely powerful weapons, can quickly surface in an attack. As a law enforcement officer in a leadership position, you must control both your own actions and reactions, and those of the folks you protect. A consistent and controlled regime of when/then thinking will enhance your ability to act quickly, confidently and calmly in any emergency, and help you stand firm to calm those around you. Mental preplanning can serve to disarm the weapons of fear and confusion.
Make sure you and your department leaders know which specialized agencies and personnel to contact for support in a variety of emergency situations, and that you can quickly do so. You and your agency should have immediate access to a field directory of phone numbers for relevant support agencies on all levels, including all federal agencies. Carry Cliff Mariani's book, Terrorism Prevention and Response Pocket Reference, or a listing of all relevant contacts for quick reference in your PDA or address book.
Identify Possible Targets
Continually identify potential targets in your area, pay particular attention to activities surrounding those areas and remember, no observation that tweaks curiosity or concern is too small. To effectively do that, think like a terrorist and get outside assistance when necessary. Example: After Sept. 11, counter-terrorism officials tapped Hollywood screenwriters for their creative abilities in an effort to imagine potential attack scenarios so they could be considered and planned against. You may be able to do the same thing on a local level if you have creative talent in your area (e.g., novelists, screenwriters, etc.) who could develop possible scenarios.
"Target designation is an imperative function for the patrol division of every police department," Mariani writes. "In order to fulfill this mandate, survey your patrol area for the obvious terrorist targets, as well as for those which you believe would present an opportunity unique to your territory. Some targets, however, may not be readily apparent. Specialized assistance may be required. Routinely consult with your local FBI special agent in charge of your counter-terrorist operations about possible threats and targets in your area."
Potential high-risk sites include strategic targets (military bases, National Guard facilities, major defense contractors, any nuclear power-related facility, etc.), symbolic targets (monuments, landmarks, military recruiting stations, financial epicenters, etc.), government offices, public-safety buildings, hospitals, heavily trafficked commercial areas, infrastructure (bridges, tunnels, highways, dams, etc.), high-profile special events, densely populated entertainment venues, large industrial plants, communications centers, coastal entry and exit points, petroleum plants and other potentially explosive areas.
Once you've identified a potential target, encourage the property owner or manager to meet with your crime prevention unit or other relevant units to discuss strategies for attack prevention and emergency response plans.
Time can be both a friend and an enemy. If you use it to prepare for action, it can prove priceless. If you allow it to corrode your tactical edge, however, it can prove extremely dangerous. Take personal initiative to stay current on counter-terrorism strategies you can implement on patrol, and steel yourself against creeping complacency and desensitization to the terrorist threat.
Where are we nearly years after Sept. 11? Still standing strong on the front lines of the war against terrorism. However, we must continually refocus our efforts and remain committed to our task. Dropping our guard would not only be a disservice to our communities, it could actually embolden the terrorists to act.
Scott Buhrmaster is director of training and content for PoliceOne.com/The PoliceOne Training Network. He serves on the Force Science Research Center's national advisory board and is a member of ASLET and ILEETA. He's been involved in a wide variety of national law-enforcement training initiatives since 1989.
Reference Mariani, Cliff: Terrorism Prevention and Response: The Definitive Law Enforcement Guide to Prepare for Terrorist Activity. Looseleaf Law Publications: Flushing, N.Y., 2003.