What can you do to help detect or prevent terrorism?

Terrorist operations begin with extensive planning. You can help prevent and detect terrorism — and other types of crime — by watching out for suspicious activities and reporting them to the proper authorities. Many of these activities, in and of themselves, may not indicate criminal activity. Taken together, however, they may be a cause for concern. If you observe people acting suspiciously, don’t hesitate to contact local law enforcement. Remember — better safe than sorry.

Seven Signs of Terrorism

Surveillance: If terrorists are targeting a specific area they will most likely be watching activities in that area during the planning phase of the operation. Note suspicious actions such as someone using cameras (still or video), drawing diagrams or making notes on maps, using vision-enhancing devices, and having floor plans or blueprints of places such as high-tech firms, financial institutions, government buildings or military facilities.

Seeking Information: Terrorists often attempt to gain information about a target — a place, person or operation — through inquiries. Examples would be someone inquiring about critical infrastructure like a power plant or water treatment plant. Terrorists may attempt to research bridge and tunnel usage, make unusual inquiries concerning shipments or look into how a facility such as a hospital operates.

Testing Security: “Probing” is a technique terrorists use to attempt to gather data about a target’s security. These tests are usually conducted by driving past or even penetrating the target, moving into sensitive areas, and observing security or law enforcement response. Vehicles may be parked for unusually long periods of time, sometimes in no-parking areas, as another test of security.

Acquiring Supplies: This may be a case where someone is purchasing or stealing explosives, weapons or ammunition. It could be the unusual purchase or storage of fertilizer or harmful chemicals. Terrorists would also find it useful to acquire law enforcement equipment and identification, military uniforms and decals, as well as flight passes, badges or even flight manuals. Any of these items would make it easier to gain entrance to secured or prohibited areas.

Suspicious Behavior: Another pre-incident indicator is the presence of suspicious people who just don’t belong. This could include individuals in a workplace, building, neighborhood or business establishment who do not fit in because of their demeanor or unusual questions they ask or statements they make. Being alert for people who “don’t belong” doesn’t mean we should profile individuals, but it does mean we should profile behaviors.

Trial Runs: Before an attack, terrorists will usually practice with a trial run to work out flaws in their plan and unanticipated problems. A dry run may be the heart of the planning stage of a terrorist act. If you find someone monitoring a police radio frequency and recording emergency response times, you may be observing a dry run.

Getting into position: The final sign to look for is someone deploying assets or getting into position. This is your last chance to alert authorities before the terrorist act occurs.