Suspicious Activity Reporting and the Fire Service: Elicitation

Example 1: National Capitol Region

A uniformed firefighter was in line at a local coffee shop and was approached by a man who asked about response times to vehicle accidents. The man asked further how many people respond, what equipment that responds, the amount of time that firefighters are on calls and how long firefighters are away from the station. He went on to reference and question federal guidelines and regulations for responses.

The firefighter asked why he wanted this information, and the man said it was for a project for response times for his department back in the United Arab Emirates. When the firefighter asked what type of project it was and what the goals and objectives of the project were, the man wouldn't answer.

The firefighter asked for this man's contact information; the man provided his name and number, and he wrote "fire department codes" next to his name, which hadn't been part of the discussion.

This encounter clearly demonstrates an individual inquiring beyond a level of mere curiosity about particular facets of operations, security procedures, etc., that would arouse suspicion in a reasonable person.

Example 2: Fire Department New York

A child of Middle Eastern descent knocked on the firehouse door and asked if he and his family, up from Florida, could see the fire trucks. The firefighter obliged and allowed five children and one adult male into quarters.

The visitors took pictures of the apparatus. Firefighters noticed one individual paying attention to a terrorism-awareness poster. When members asked one child when they were returning to Florida, he responded, "We don't live in Florida" and another child passed a comment that "my father is tricking you."

The family was escorted from quarters. It was later reported that that this family conducted a similar incident at an adjacent firehouse. Firefighters made proper notifications of this suspicious activity as per department protocol.

[This information is offered from our FDNY partners, Deputy Chief Thomas J. Currao, Captain Chris Flately and Captain Chris Ward and Lieutenant Tim Carroll.]

Possible Indicators of Suspicious Elicitation

  • Inquiries about specific security procedures and personnel
  • Inquiring about policies or procedures that would provide insight into operations
  • Repeated attempts to return to the topic after the conversation has changed
  • Offers of gifts for information or access to restricted areas

Every member of your department has knowledge that can be valuable to terrorists, homegrown violent extremists (HVEs) or criminals. Knowledge of departmental policies and procedures, as well as other agencies' and private sector partners' response plans, capability and capacity, are part of your skill set. It's for your official use only and is not intended to be public knowledge.

Terrorists and HVEs may seek to elicit information from first responders to further attack planning. Attempts to identify a facility's vulnerabilities or gaps in response plans may be part of broader intelligence gathering and target surveillance in the attack-planning cycle.

Your members should be aware of attempts to elicit information. Protect the content of department documents and professional knowledge and don't share with those without a need to know.

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