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The idea that homeland security starts with hometown security cannot be overemphasised

Public security and safety is the responsibility of all people, as much as it is of the police and security officers. Ordinary people can contribute to the timely detection and prevention of any serious security threat by staying alert, recognising suspicious activity and reporting it to relevant law enforcement authorities. In this article, George Anderson, Vice President, Operations for the New York office of Allied Barton Security Services- one of the world’s largest security services companies- and President of the New York Chapter of ASIS, gives useful tips to help anyone contribute to public security and safety.

New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) originally unveiled the “If You See Something, Say Something™” campaign to increase public awareness of terrorism and the importance of reporting suspicious activity to law enforcement authorities. This slogan, later licensed to the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS), highlights the concept that homeland security begins with hometown security, a concept that is relevant not just for the US, but worldwide.

New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority originally unveiled the “If You See Something, Say Something™” campaign to increase public awareness of terrorism

Police and security forces are hard at work but public safety is the responsibility of all. As the first line of defense against acts of terrorism, police and security forces need each individual’s help. All individuals need to be on alert for potential risks. The attempted car bombing in New York’s Times Square in 2010 was averted by the vigilance of a quick thinking street vendor who witnessed smoke coming from an SUV and alerted police. This potentially saved hundreds of lives, had the device functioned as it was nefariously intended. While this incident was front-page news, virtually every day, thousands of people around the world witness suspicious activity. People play important roles in helping law enforcement solve crimes and save lives by becoming actively involved in protecting their communities. Whether in a rural or urban environment, the best defense against crime or terror is to let the authorities know when something does not look right.

Below are some tips to help people to recognise security threats and report suspicious activities:

People rushing in the city
Police and security forces are hard at work but all individuals need to be on alert for potential risks

Take note of suspicious behaviour– Suspicious activity can be defined as an incident, circumstance or person who appears out of the ordinary and out of place. This includes a range of suspicious behaviour. For example, a person taking lots of photographs of a building’s infrastructure is potentially suspicious as this person may be looking for weaknesses in the building to exploit for criminal or terrorist activities. Someone tampering with sewer, gas or electric systems, who is not identified as being from a legitimate company or government agency is also suspicious. A bag left by a passenger on a bus or train or in a public place demands immediate action and should be reported to the transport staff as well as the police.

Record suspicious activity – Write down as much information as possible about the suspicious behaviour, including the time and place of the activity, and a physical description of the suspicious person. If you are able to discreetly take a photo or video of the person from your phone, this could be used as important evidence. Minus photographic evidence, try to provide specific information to the authorities including gender, race, approximate age, height and weight, hair colour and style, clothing, and general appearance including note of any facial hair, scars, tattoos or glasses.

Even workplaces with a full-time security team need to involve their employees and promote the "If You See Something, Say Something" campaign

Educate the workplace– Even workplaces with a full-time security team need to involve their employees in promoting safety for all. The security team cannot be in every hallway, office or production area at all times – but employees are. It is the observations of the many that can truly make an impact. All employees should be educated on what constitutes suspicious activity and the importance of reporting it. In some offices, it is the receptionist who is the company’s first line of defense. Therefore, they should be trained in how to identify suspicious individuals, such as a person who claims to have lost their identification and seeks to gain entry, or a caller who asks probing questions about a particular employee.

Establish reporting procedures in the workplace– Determining the chain of command on reporting procedures for suspicious activity is important. When is it appropriate for employees to call the police? If an employee feels immediate attention is necessary, they should call the police.

Encourage friends, neighbours and colleagues to be observant and vigilant on the job and even on their way to work. If there is a stray bag tucked under the bus or underground seat, report it to the local police. If a stranger walks into the office without having been identified by your front desk security personnel, ensure that this is reported immediately to the appropriate person. Vehicles abandoned in the right of way should also be reported to local authorities immediately. These situations can be completely innocent, but they could also be very dangerous and are worth a call to the local police.

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