9/11 two years later. Where do you stand?


PoliceOne.com Special Report:

Patrol Tips for Maintaining Your Post-9/11 Edge of Awareness

As the second anniversary of the 2001 terrorist attacks approaches, some nagging questions likely remain in the minds of many law enforcement professionals:

  • Are we, both as a nation and as a profession, really better prepared now, two year later, to identify, diffuse and respond to a terrorist threat on U.S. soil?
  • Has time dulled our edge of tactical awareness? Are we as alert now as we were two years ago? Do we really need to be?
  • What can we do as individuals and as an agency to be-and remain-better prepared?

Recent polls have shown that many Americans believe another attack of some sort, potentially one using quite different methods from those seen in 2001 but likely as large in scale and just a devastating, could be brewing. Government reports indicate that in fact terrorist planning and "chatter" does continue and the chances of attack on domestic soil have not disappeared. So in answer to the question of whether an acute level of terrorism awareness is really necessary the answer is, of course, of course.

As far as national preparedness goes, that likely depends on who you talk to and what you read. Obviously many necessary changes in domestic security have been put in place and the idea that we remain vulnerable to attack keeps those responsible for planning and implementing those enhancements motivated to continue. Are we better prepared? Yes. Are we fully prepared? Probably not. Are we prepared enough? We don't know. But one thing we do know: two years of relative calm can reduce tactical awareness and even lead to complacency.

On Thursday, September 11, 2003 we will stand at the anniversary of change. As the only remaining superpower showed that it, too, is vulnerable and buckled under the pain of an attack on home soil, the world changed. As every television set in the country flickered with images of collapsing towers, plane crashes and burning buildings and every American stood stunned, struggling to come to grips with what had just happened, the United States changed. As thousands waited to hear if loved ones were among the murdered, families changed.

And as we witnessed brutal evidence that there are no limits to evil, law enforcement changed.

The call to arms was sounded and officers across the nation rose up to meet the ominous challenge of defending against a level of threat never before seen on U.S. soil. On September 11, 2001, the eyes, ears and minds of law enforcement were open and sharp, keenly alert to any sign of threat. Your level of resolve to integrate counter-terrorism awareness into your everyday lives, both professional and personal, was at peak level and the desire to maintain it certainly remains, but two years is a long time, and time can breed a false sense security.

Now, at the advent of this second anniversary, consider re-evaluating your degree of change as it pertains to terrorist awareness and, if necessary, reviving your level of threat perception. Are you remaining alert to even the smallest terrorist indicators while on patrol? Have you remained dedicated to an "If/Then Thinking" regime in preparation for the possibility that you may need to respond calmly, effectively and immediately to a mass emergency situation? Are you mentally steeled against the looming threat of time-induced complacency?

As agents of the executive branch of government, police officers must protect the lives and property of all citizens; enforce the law impartially; combat crime through deterrence, investigation and apprehension. Since 9-11, police officers throughout the land have taken on added duties, burdens and responsibilities. As vital as the Federal law enforcement network is at investigating al-Qaida and all other terrorist organizations, the contributions of state and local law enforcement in defense of the homeland are too important not to be emphasized to those who must continue the work of defending our towns, villages and cities.

Below are just a few strategies you can implement-regardless of your rank, experience or location-to better prepare and protect yourself and your community for the possibility of terrorist activity:

[Tips provided by Cliff Mariani, a retired NYPD and counter-terrorism researcher. He is the author of Terrorism Prevention & Response]

  • Stay alert for "routine" crimes that can serve as red flags to possible terrorist planning.
  • Vast quantities of dangerous and deadly chemicals (which could be diverted from manufacturing, transportation, storage and sales facilities for a chemical warfare attack) are lawfully used in the manufacture of common products. Prowling incidents, burglaries, thefts, missing inventory, suspicious new applicants for employment, etc. are 'red flag' events that require immediate investigation.

    If any of the following products are produced, stored or sold in large quantities in your patrol sector, pay special attention to the facility while on patrol: bleaching products, chlorine products, cleaning solutions, crowd/riot control sprays, disinfectants, drain cleaners, dyes, fertilizers, fumigation products, fungicides, galvanizing solutions, herbicides, insecticides, pesticides, metal polishes, organic chemicals, pharmaceuticals, photographic solutions, plastics/polymers, solvents, weed killers.

  • Develop information-sharing relationships with local merchants, landlords and manufacturers that can yield quick alerts to suspicious persons and behavior.
  • Ask merchants to remain alert for inexplicable purchasing anomalies (i.e. large purchases of potentially harmful products). Ask manufacturers to keep you abreast of any out-of-the-ordinary occurrences at their plants or within their staff that may be worthy of focus. Ask landlords to stay alert for tenants and/or tenant behavior that may give them pause. Alert citizens can provide tremendous strength to a counter-terrorism awareness campaign.

  • Make sure you have established a family plan.
  • In a terrorist emergency, your first thought will likely be the safety of your family. In order to bolster your confidence in their ability to act as you would desire in an emergency situation and to help you stay focused on your primary law enforcement responsibilities, be sure to develop and rehearse an emergency plan with your spouse and, when appropriate, your children. Where should they go in an emergency? Who are they to call? Should they try to contact you? Should they expect that you will contact them? What should they NOT do? Prior planning will give you-and them-the confidence needed to remain calm and focused and to take the steps necessary to remain safe.

  • Mentally prepare yourself for a mass emergency situation to better ensure that your emotional response to a potentially unthinkable situation will be appropriate.
  • Mass confusion and fear are two extremely powerful weapons that can quickly surface in an attack. As a law enforcement officer in a leadership position, you are responsible for controlling both the actions and reactions of yourself and those you protect. A consistent and controlled regime of If/Then Thinking will enhance your ability to act quickly, confidently and calmly in any emergency and stand firm to help calm those around you. Mental pre-planning can serve to disarm the weapons of fear and confusion.

  • Be sure that you and your departmental leaders are pre-trained to know which specialized agencies and personnel to contact for support in a variety of emergency situations and that you are quickly able to do so.
  • Be sure that you and your entire agency have immediate access to a field directory of phone numbers for relevant support agencies on all levels, including all federal agencies. This can be ensured by carrying a "Terrorism Prevention and Response Pocket Reference" (link) or listing all relevant contacts for quick reference in your PDA or address book.

  • Continually identify potential targets of all kinds in your area, pay particular attention to activities surrounding those areas and remember that no observation that tweaks curiosity or concern is too small.
  • To effectively do that, Mariani advises officers to "think like a terrorist" and to get outside assistance when necessary. "Target designation is an imperative function for the patrol division of every police department," he writes. "In order to fulfill this mandate, survey your patrol area for the obvious terrorist targets, as well as for those which you believe would present an opportunity unique to your territory. Some targets, however, may not be readily apparent. Specialized assistance may be required. Routinely consult with your local F.B.I. Special Agent in charge of your counter-terrorist operations about possible threats and targets in your area."

    Potential high-risk sites may include strategic targets (military bases, national guard facilities, major defense contractors, any nuclear power-related facility, etc.), symbolic targets (monuments, landmarks, military recruiting stations, financial epicenters, etc.), government offices, public safety buildings, hospitals, heavily trafficked commercial areas, infrastructure (bridges, tunnels, highways, dams, etc.) high-profile special events, densely populated entertainment venues, large industrial plants, communications centers, coastal entry and exit points, petroleum plants and other potentially explosive areas.

    Once a potential target is identified, encourage the property owner or manager to meet with your crime prevention unit or other relevant units to discuss strategies for attack prevention and emergency response plans.

    Side note: After 9-11, Hollywood screenwriters were tapped for their creative abilities in an effort to imagine potential attack scenarios so they could be considered and planned against. You may be able to do the same thing on a local level if you are aware of creative talent in your area (novelists, screenwriters, etc.) who may provide help in developing possible scenarios for strategy development.

  • Take terrorist activity reports seriously, take personal initiative to stay current on counter-terrorism strategies you can implement on patrol and steel yourself against creeping complacency and desensitization to the topic of terrorism defense.
  • Time can be both a friend and an enemy. If it is used to prepare for action, it can be priceless. If it's allowed to corrode your tactical edge, it can be extremely dangerous.

Where are we two years after September 11, 2001? Still standing strong on the front lines of the war against terrorism.


About the author

If you have tactical information, compelling incidents, general comments or topics you would like to share, please contact Scott Buhrmaster, Managing Editor for PoliceOne.com and the Director of Training for the PoliceOne Training Network, at: buhrmastergroup@comcast.net

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