Since the 9/11 terrorists attack, Americans have been vigilant with their surroundings. The national "See Something, Say Something," campaign is reminder for individuals that security is not only the responsibility of law enforcement, but ordinary citizens as well. In Naval District Washington (NDW), as in all corners of the country, preventing terrorist or criminal activity is just as much a job for the average citizen, military and civilian.
"As much as we would like to put security in place to see and catch everything, our best indicator that something is not right really comes from everyday people who see something that stands out to them," said Rob Shaffer, NDW regional security officer. "When an individual sees something that looks different or out of the norm and they think to report it, that keys us in to look into these situations, and a lot of times that's where we find our best information. And that allows security to be proactive rather than reactive, which is what we prefer to do."
The Department of Homeland Security's national "See Something, Say Something" campaign began in 2010 as a program to raise awareness of indicators of terrorism, and emphasize the importance of reporting suspicious activity indicative of criminal behavior to authorities.
Shaffer suggests that NDW personnel be aware of their surroundings, particularly in areas with high concentrations of people such as transportation hubs and shopping malls, and simply be on the lookout for things that seem out of the ordinary.
"It's on the individual to make the call as to what seems suspicious. If you see something that you're not used to seeing, then it does kind of fall into that category of 'See Something, Say Something.' And fortunately, a lot of our calls are uneventful, but that's OK; we'd rather have an uneventful call than miss a call that turned out to be a threat."
Examples of suspicious behavior include individuals photographing secure areas or monitoring known government or military personnel. Unattended luggage or packages, particularly if they have stains or protruding wires, are also cause for suspicion and reporting.
"It's as simple as picking up the phone and calling your local police department," said William Holdren, Antiterrorism Officer for Naval Support Activity Washington. "If you see something suspicious, try to take in as much information as you can so that you can pass that on, whether it's a description of an individual or the activity, direction the individual left in, and anything that can be used for us to identify a suspicious individual. If it's a suspicious bag or package, same thing; don't touch it, but give a detailed description as to where it is and why it's suspicious."
Holdren said that especially with suspicious or unattended packages, safety dictates that individuals not inspect them, but rather get to a safe distance and call it in to local authorities using a land line telephone, not a cell phone. Once a threat is called in, be it on or off base, the information is passed to the appropriate agency for action.
"If we were to receive a report from one of our civilian or military personnel who worked on the installation, depending on where it happened on or off base, we would pass the information on to the agency that has jurisdiction," said Shaffer.
"There are a lot of players that come in," added Holdren. "We've got installation security, the Metropolitan Police Department right outside the gates, we have the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, and in all cases, we work very well together. It's a very well-oiled machine."
Both Shaffer and Holdren said that security in and around NDW are prepared for the various potential threats that personnel call in to report, and that training is maintained to ensure the best response should it be needed. Training aside, Holdren said that ordinary citizens play an important role in the process by being alert to protect the safety of themselves and others.
"At the end of the day, it's going to be the everyday Joe and Jane to raise the alarm and set in motion the process to stop something potentially bad from happening, because they're probably going to be the first ones to see it," said Holdren. "It's all based on situational awareness, and if it doesn't look right or sound right or smell right, it probably isn't right."
For more information on the "See Something, Say Something" campaign, visit http://www.dhs.gov/if-you-see-something-say-something-campaign.