Hendricks County Flyer, Avon, IN

April 29, 2013

IDHS focuses on citizen vigilance as large events loom

Bart Doan

— April showers bring more than flowers in the month of May. In Indianapolis, the month kicks off a summer of festivals, sporting events, and gatherings that cumulatively bring millions into the metropolitan area.

With that in mind and in light of the recent bombings at the Boston Marathon, public safety officials here are ramping up awareness of their “If You See Something, Say Something” program that urges civilian vigilance.

According to the Department of Homeland Security, a recent survey showed that 56 percent of people had not heard of the long-time campaign, and 57 percent said they’d be willing to meet with the DHS to report something of a suspicious nature.

“Any time there is a larger than average event coming together on a fairground or other location, that makes observation more difficult by police and other public service professionals,” John Erickson, senior public information officer for the Indiana Department of Homeland Security, said. “We need the public’s help in those situations. We need those extra eyes.”

Erickson said the program has been around for a number of years and was adopted in New York City. He said recent events in Boston have caused more emphasis to be placed on re-introducing the program in hopes that the public has a watchdog attitude at large events.

Erickson said large scale tragedies often cause public focus to be on suspicious activity, but over time that vigilance wanes. The goal is to keep that mindset more constant.

“It does tend to fade,” he said. “It is very common for people to be vigilant right after something happens and as time goes on, we forget that we need to be vigilant and my hope is that we don’t have another reminder.”

Though reporting potentially dangerous or suspicious activity is second nature to some, Erickson said that’s not the attitude that everyone has.

“There is a bit of a stigma to reporting suspicious behavior that we’re trying to communicate to the public,” he said. “They might think it’s not a big deal, see something and forget about it. But take a few minutes to contact either the event organizers, security on site, police, firefighters, or other public service professionals.”

IDHS Executive Director John Hill added, “Citizen awareness is one of the best partners we have against manmade crisis.  We need the average person to know that their input is critical to preventing violent

situations. Do not feel embarrassed for reporting anything out of the ordinary."

The IDHS says it’s important to take note of several key details, such as when and where a person is at the time they notice the suspicious activity. The IDHS also urges citizens to get a description of individuals involved such as gender, age, physical description, and unique characteristics and to take note of any vehicles involved, make and model of the vehicle, and its direction of travel.

 

Examples of suspicious activity include monitoring personnel, testing security, unusual or prolonged interest in security measures, or purposely placing objects in sensitive areas to observe response.

For example, a person taking photos at a high profile event is not unusual in itself, but if that person is only taking photos of security cameras or personnel, that activity would be suspicious.

“If you just don’t feel right about it, if it seems odd, report it,” Erickson said. “Even if that one piece of information doesn’t lead to something, we’re getting other reports. That (information) might be put together with three to five other reports where violence can be prevented.”

He added that an environment like a marathon can present challenges that something like the Indianapolis 500 do not, and that adds to the need for citizen vigilance.

“When you add to that an environment that’s more free flowing, any type of event that has people walking up, like a parade, it adds another element of caution because there are more opportunities for people that want to do mischief or harm people that want to attend the event,” he said. “That’s why we need the help from the public.”

Erickson said citizens can gain an understanding of what it is that they should be looking for by going to the IDHS website and looking at a terrorism check list that points out what suspicious activity could be a harbinger of violent activity to come.

Also, making sure contact activity is readily accessible is imperative. One way to do that, he said, is to program the number  for the Indiana Intelligence Fusion Center, which is 877-226-1026, into your phone.

“Your safety is important,” Erickson said.  “Don’t try and confront the (suspicious) people. Find those who are trained to deal with this situation.”

For more information on the “If You See Something, Say Something” campaign, visit the website at www.dhs.gov/if-you-see-something-say-something-campaign.