Emerging Issues in Security

Does ‘See Something, Say Something’ Really Work?

Right after the events of 9/11, the U.S. government began asking its citizens to help in the War on Terrorism by following a security mantra that is well-known today: “If You See Something, Say Something.” This advisory is designed to assist and support local, state, and federal law enforcement authorities by serving as extra sets of eyes and ears for potential terrorism plots, preplanning activities, or just before or during actual events. How effective is this approach?

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One of the difficulties of measuring the relative success of the “See Something, Say Something” campaign to enhance public awareness is common to most security devices, activities, policies, protocols, or responses: How do we prove a negative? How do we prove the measures we used or had in place worked as a deterrent? The absence of a terrorism event is not always correlated to the measures we put in place. Cameras, gates, and guards at a site may have deterred a potential attacker or his or her coconspirators, or they may have simply never have targeted the location to begin with.

Similarly, the success of any national reporting program cannot be accurately assessed because we don’t always hear about the number of actual plots or real preattack behaviors that were thwarted by information from someone in the public and acted on by the proper U.S. law enforcement, intelligence, or military authorities, because these incidents are rarely publicized the media.

Since 9/11, we’ve had the birth of a new federal agency, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and the addition of many new subagencies, ranging from the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) to the reorganization of the Customs, Immigration, and Border Patrol agencies into Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to the establishment of new FBI units, so-called “Fusion Centers,” and Joint Terrorism Task Forces (JTTFs). How have we proven—or are we even able to prove—that the presence of these new bureaucracies have aided our terrorism fight if we don’t hear about a lot of intervention success stories? As we approach the 16th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, do members of the public still realize the value of “See Something, Say Something” and the need to continue their own awareness, vigilance, and reporting? Some critics have argued that many members of the public (and especially those who were not adults during 9/11) either don’t actually know who to report to, or worse, don’t have confidence that their tips or reports will be effectively evaluated or investigated.

Perhaps security professionals can take the lead in this area by modeling the types of reporting behaviors they expect all employees to report at their work locations in the hopes that this sense of shared vigilance will trickle down to the employees’ personal lives as well. What they do at work in terms of knowing who to report to and where and when to report suspicious activities and potential terrorism-related behaviors could help them do the same outside of their jobs. As an example, security directors and managers could ask their security officers and all company employees to look for individuals or people who:

  • Loiter in unauthorized or restricted areas.
  • Are not wearing appropriate identification (ID), relevant uniforms, or required safety gear.
  • Act like they are lost.
  • Ask too many prying questions about security measures or equipment.
  • Seem too interested in our employees or operations.
  • Scare others with threatening or irrational behavior.
  • Leave quickly after abandoning a package or car.
  • Take photos, videos, or measurements without permission.
  • Seem too interested in our activities.
  • Act like vendors or delivery people but are in the wrong place and don’t know the visiting vendor protocols.
  • Leave cars, delivery vans, or cargo trucks in odd locations, or drive and/or abandon overloaded cars.

1 thought on “Does ‘See Something, Say Something’ Really Work?”

  1. I totally agree, as I have been stressing situational awareness and reporting since I have taken my current position. Your most important security asset are your people. They need to be trained on threat recognition and security protocol, they need to feel empowered to report and they have to understand the process for reporting.

    Like any policy, they need to be refreshed periodically to keep it current and part of the culture. Memory and habits fade without reinforcement. Too much and they overload, not enough and compliance fades, it is a delicate balance. Our world is changing and these threats are not just a passing fad (unfortunately) this is something that needs to become our new reality and as our forefathers once stated `we must be ever vigilant’ as we do have enemies both foreign and domestic.

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