Past terrorist attacks have left many concerned about the possibility of future incidents of terrorism in the United States and their potential impact. A terrorist attack on the U.S. remains a significant and pressing threat. Terrorist operations usually begin with extensive planning and can happen anytime, anywhere, but you can help prevent and detect terrorism by watching out for suspicious activities and by reporting them to the proper authorities. Be alert for the eight signs of terrorism, which can be found below!
Cover photo courtesy of FEMA/Andrea Booher
Banner photo courtesy of FEMA/Lauren Hobart
Within text photo courtesy of FEMA/Jocelyn Augustino
8 Signs of Terrorism
Surveillance: Terrorists may conduct surveillance to determine a target’s strengths and weaknesses. Be aware of someone who appears to be monitoring security personnel or equipment, or gauging emergency response time. Suspicious activities may include using vision enhancing devices or cameras, acquiring floor plans or blueprints, drawing diagrams and showing interest in security and access to facilities.
Elicitation: People or organizations attempting to gain information about military operations, capabilities, or people. Elicitation attempts may be made by mail, email, telephone, in person or even by gaining employment at the location.
Tests of Security: Any attempt to measure reaction times to security breaches, attempts to penetrate physical security barriers, or monitor procedures in order to assess strengths and weaknesses.
Funding: Terrorists need to raise money for their operations and spend it in a way that doesn’t draw attention. Be aware of unusually large transactions paid with cash or gift cards, collections for donations and solicitations for money.
Supplies: To conduct an attack, terrorists may need a variety of supplies, such as weapons, uniforms, badges, and communication systems.
Impersonation: Terrorists may impersonate law enforcement officers, firefighters, mail carriers, or company employees to gain information. Someone who seems suspicious in what they say or do on the job could be a red flag.
Rehearsal: Terrorists often rehearse a planned attack to make sure their operation runs smoothly. This may include measuring response time by emergency responders, mapping routes and determining the timing of traffic lights.
Deployment: This is when terrorists are putting their plans into place, getting into position, and moving equipment and supplies. If you observe this type of activity, this is your last chance to alert authorities before the attack is launched. If you believe there is imminent danger, call 911 immediately.
VIDEO: Recognizing the 8 Signs of Terrorism
See Something, Say Something!
The nationwide “If You See Something, Say Something” public awareness campaign was created to raise public awareness of indicators of terrorism and terrorism-related crime, and to emphasize the importance of reporting suspicious activity to the proper local law enforcement authorities. If you see something suspicious taking place, report the behavior or activity to local law enforcement. In the event of an emergency, call 9-1-1. Factors such as race, ethnicity, national origin, or religious affiliation alone are not suspicious. Never try to handle or intervene in the situation on your own – let trained authorities handle the situation.
Recognizing Suspicious People
Suspicious people may often be identified by their behavior. While no one behavioral activity is proof that someone is planning to act inappropriately, these factors can help you assess whether someone poses a threat.
Behavioral factors to watch for include:
- Nervousness or other signs of mental discomfort. This may include sweating or “tunnel vision” (staring forward inappropriately).
- Inappropriate, oversize, loose-fitting clothes (i.e. a heavy overcoat on a warm day).
- Keeping hands in pockets or cupping hands (i.e. holding a triggering device).
- Constantly favoring one side or one area of the body as if wearing something unusual/uncomfortable (i.e. a holster). Pay attention to someone who is constantly adjusting waistbands, ankles, or other clothing. Suicide bombers have been known to repeatedly pat themselves to verify that the bomb vest or belt is still attached.
- Remain as calm as possible.
- Follow the instructions of local emergency officials.
- If you are in the immediate vicinity, check yourself and others for injuries. If you are not injured, give first aid and get help for seriously injured people.
- If you are not in the immediate area, do not move to the scene of the incident.
- Listen to your radio or television for news to obtain information.
- Call your family contact; do not use the telephone again unless it is a life-threatening emergency.
An act of terrorism may have wide-spread and devastating results.
You should be prepared for the following:
- Heavy law enforcement presence in surrounding areas.
- Extensive media coverage for a prolonged period of time.
- Workplace and school closures.
- Restrictions on domestic and international travel.
- Clean-up make take months.
- Psychological effects in survivors, first responders, and others may be present and are not unusual in the aftermath of a high-casualty event. Assistance from mental health professionals may be necessary.
References, Resources and More Information:
- Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management
- Colorado Information Analysis Center
- Counterterrorism Education Learning Lab (The CELL)
- National Terrorism Advisory System
- Red Cross – Terrorism Preparedness
- Department of Homeland Security
- Security Management
- Federal Bureau of Investigation – Najibullah Zazi Pleads Guilty to Conspiracy to Use Explosives Against Persons or Property in U.S., Conspiracy to Murder Abroad, and Providing Material Support to al Qaeda
It Happened Here
Najibullah Zazi, a citizen of Afghanistan and a legal resident of the United States, plotted to bomb the New York City subway system in September 2009. In January 2009, Zazi moved to Colorado and worked as a shuttle bus driver at the Denver International Airport. On Sept. 8, 2009, Zazi drove from Denver to New York, taking with him the explosives and other materials necessary to build the bombs. Zazi and others intended to obtain and assemble the remaining components of the bombs over the weekend and conduct the attack on the Manhattan subway system on September 14, 15 or 16, 2009. However, shortly after arriving in New York, Zazi realized that law enforcement was investigating his activities. Zazi and others discarded the explosives and other bomb-making materials, and Zazi traveled back to Denver. He was arrested on Sept. 19, 2009.
- In 2012, there were 6,771 terrorist attacks worldwide.
- The word “terrorism” first appeared in France (terrorisme) in 1795.
- A terrorist can be an individual or part of an organization.
- If you see something, say something!