Fairfax, Va. - Recent attacks and ongoing threats to law enforcement, military, and other government personnel by terrorist groups and homegrown violent extremists (HVEs) should remind all first responders of the potential to become targets of violence or to be called to respond to an attack. Whereas fire service and emergency medical personnel may not have been specifically cited as targets in recent threat reporting, we work in close concert with law enforcement, and respond to acts of violence and terrorism with the same commitment to serve our communities. Additionally, we are visible representatives of government, and our officers are routinely present and easily recognizable at high-profile public events. As such, our response readiness continuously must consider the potential to be involved in one of these violent and dynamic incidents.
An effective response is one that limits loss of life and property. To achieve this objective, we must continue to work closely with our law enforcement partners to ensure that any such response is well coordinated at the command and tactical levels. In addition, the IAFC recommends reducing your department’s off-duty profile and retaining crew integrity at all times while on the scene or in the public. Most importantly, we have an obligation to our communities to report suspicious observations that could lead to the discovery of an HVE or the detection and disruption of an attack.
Suspicious activity reporting serves as a vital component of first responder safety to mitigate or prevent an attack by terrorists or HVEs. Acute awareness of your surroundings will help to recognize possible indicators of preoperational surveillance and/or components of the attack planning cycle, which may include:
- Suspicious probing of facilities’ public access points potentially to identify a physical security weakness.
- Unusually bulky clothing that is not consistent with weather conditions that may be used to conceal weapons or other articles.
- Unusual or prolonged interest in -- or attempts to gain -- sensitive information about security measures of personnel, entry points, peak days and hours of operation, and access controls such as alarms or locks.
- Observation of security reaction drills or procedures; multiple false alarms or fictitious emergency calls to same locations or similar venues.
- Discreet use of cameras or video recorders, sketching, or note-taking consistent with preoperational surveillance.
- Observation of or questions about facility security measures including barriers, restricted areas, cameras, and intrusion detection systems.
- Suspicious articles left unattended near areas of high crowd density.
- Suspicious activity near or within public transportation facilities or vehicles to include unattended articles that appear out of place.
We truly can contribute to saving lives if we remain vigilant and report observation of any of the indicators listed above. It is important to emphasize that suspicious activity reporting may help detect potential “lone wolves,” who otherwise do not broadcast their intentions before an attack. Please report suspicious activities according to your department’s procedures.
The IAFC has published a series of articles in On Scene that all fire and emergency service members should read. The IAFC website also has a link to training by the federal Nationwide Suspicious Activity Reporting Initiative.
Further valuable information can be found in the Fireline Intelligence products (for example, Emergency Medical Treatment Presents Opportunity for Discovery of Violent Extremist Activities) and FDNY’s Watchline weekly brief. This information can be accessed through the JCAT Special Interest Group (SIG) on Law Enforcement Online (LEO) portal or in the JCAT community of Interest (COI) of the Homeland Security Information Network (HSIN).
Other information, such as the Homeland Security Intelligence Guide for Fire Chiefs and Terrorism Response: A Checklist and Guide for Fire Chiefs are available on the IAFC’s Terrorism and Homeland Security webpage.
About the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC)
The IAFC represents the leadership of firefighters and emergency responders worldwide. IAFC members are the world's leading experts in firefighting, emergency medical services, terrorism response, hazardous materials spills, natural disasters, search and rescue, and public safety legislation. Since 1873, the IAFC has provided a forum for its members to exchange ideas, develop professionally and uncover the latest products and services available to first responders. Learn more