January 2013: three weeks before President Obama’s second inauguration
As planning continued for the upcoming inauguration, the fire departments of the National Capitol Region (NCR) conducted executive-level meetings. During one such meeting, the previous SAR incidents were discussed in detail.
On returning to his home department, the chief of Occoquan-Woodbridge-Lorton Volunteer Fire Department (in Prince William County, Va.) received a suspicious email asking how to become a volunteer. The sender went on to ask about becoming EMS: how long it will take to be released to drive an ambulance. He also inquired about facial hair regulations; he said that due to his deep religious beliefs, he doesn’t shave.
The sender turned out to be the same individual who was waiting in the alley outside Fairfax County Fire Station weeks earlier. A report was written on December 31, 2012, and submitted to the Northern Virginia Regional Intelligence Center (NVRIC) through the fire liaison officer.
This situation was suspicious for several reasons
- Most volunteers choose to volunteer in their local communities. This individual inquired in several different counties.
- He asked several very specific questions about EMS and being able to drive an ambulance.
- He knew there’s a facial hair restriction, so he had done some homework on what may exclude him from joining.
NVRIC January 10
During a monthly multi-agency, multijurisdictional meeting, a federal agency reported that a similar inquiry had occurred off-site in Warrenton, Va., in November. We exchanged details of what we had thus far.
What happened next stunned us all.
When our federal partners ran this new information through their database, it turned out to be the same individual from the Fairfax and the Prince William County SARs. With other information discovered, all the pieces came together.
Due in large part to well-established partnerships and an information-sharing platform in the region, when this rose to the federal level, it was taken quite seriously. An emergency intelligence bulletin was sent to the highest-level executives in the intelligence community.
This case illustrates the value the fire service brings to the intelligence community by recognizing and reporting suspicious activity and the importance of well-established and maintained relationships. A successful SAR process is a multifaceted practice. First responders need to recognize and identify what they are seeing to understand why it is suspicious; this takes training.
Next they have to have an established, codified way to report it; this takes policy implementation. And finally, they need to develop and maintain healthy and open relationships with their nontraditional partners; this takes trust.
These, when fit together, create a safer working environment and increased public safety.