Suspicious Activity Reporting: See Something, Say Something—But To Whom?

Does your department know how to report SARs?

Bomb. Fuse. Convention.

These three words, written in the margin of a sheet of paper, were the only English words in an otherwise Arabic-written note. Would this situation create, in the mind of the reasonable observer, an actionable concern that the behavior may indicate preoperational planning associated with terrorism or other criminal activity?

If yes, it meets the threshold of a suspicious activity (SA) and should be reported.

As the fire and emergency service environment continues to overlap with the hostile world of terrorism, we must recognize our responsibility to report suspicious activities and events—to contribute to the intelligence community’s efforts to thwart potential terrorist plots.

Does everyone in your department know how to report an SA? Does your department have a formal SAR policy? Where and to whom do you report an SA?

These are questions every department must answer to evolve and remain safe in the current environment.

Unfortunately, many departments lack formal reporting procedures or a mechanism with which to report an SA. The IAFC’s Committee on Terrorism and Homeland Security recognizes the pace most departments operate at: high speed. No one enjoys slowing down to write policy.

The National SAR Initiative (NSI) also provides guidelines and references to help craft a policy for your department (proper credentials required to access these resources online).

These are designed to be starting points for development. Policies are ineffective without training. And training on SAR is incomplete without a mechanism to report it.

Do you know your local Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF)?

The FBI’s JTTFs are interagency task forces designed to enhance communication, coordination and cooperation in countering terrorist threats. They combine the resources, talents, skills and knowledge of federal, state, territorial, tribal and local law enforcement and homeland-security agencies, as well as the intelligence community, into a single team that investigates and responds to terrorist threats.

The JTTFs execute the FBI’s lead federal agency responsibility for investigating terrorist acts or terrorist threats against the United States. Find out more from the FBI’s Terrorism webpage.

Do you know your closest fusion center?

A fusion center is a collaborative effort of two or more federal, state, local, tribal or territorial (SLTT) government agencies that combines resources, expertise or information with the goal of maximizing the agencies’ abilities to detect, prevent, investigate, apprehend and respond to criminal or terrorist activity.

State and major urban area fusion centers serve as focal points within the state and local environment for the receipt, analysis, gathering and sharing of threat-related information between the federal government and SLTT agencies and private-sector partners. Find out more from DHS’s National Network of Fusion Centers Fact Sheet.

Remember, if it looks unusual and it feels strange, if something feels out of place, your instincts are probably right. Know what you’re looking for, report what you see and keep your communities safe.

For more information, questions or comments, contact the IAFC’s Terrorism and Homeland Security Committee liaison.

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