Last week we saw a man purposefully placing rice cookers (like a pressure cooker bomb used in the Boston Marathon terror bombing) in different places in New York City. The people who saw them reported it and the police treated them as suspicious, and they were. Ultimately they were not determined to be actual bombs, but why was the man ”planting” them in public? Was it a dry run? Was he looking for how people would respond?

A few years back, on a train in London someone placed a five gallon bucket with a black plastic bag in it on the train and walked away. The bucket was strange looking and people were staring at it wondering why it was on the train, then it began to smoke and everyone ran. It was a homemade bomb, but luckily it didn’t explode.

Doesn’t this kind of thing sound suspicious? Of course, and one main factor was that it was out place. What was an unattended bucket doing on a commuter train?

There was also an incident in the subways of New York where a man had a bomb in a backpack and it exploded while he was carrying it; it seems he intended to leave it somewhere to explode and hurt other people but it went off early. If he had managed to leave the backpack on the platform or on a train would you have thought that a suspicious package?

So even though we can’t always describe exactly what “Suspicious” is, we can consider the circumstances, location and behaviors of people and packages to see if they seem out of place or make us uncomfortable enough to consider why that is.

This brings us back to the saying, “See something say something,” if you see something or someone that seems out of place or makes you uncomfortable⏤that IS what suspicious is. Call the police and let someone know. You might be wrong, but if you are right you could save your life or the lives of other innocent people.

Ever since the events of September 11, 2001 and the seemingly endless horrors of school and work place shootings we have been more vigilant than ever before. We are aware that danger can erupt at any moment, in any location, we are worried about the security in our schools, work places and other public gathering areas. We are always looking for trouble so we can react quickly and save ourselves, our kids and our friends.

So intent are we to avoid an active shooter or other violent event that our state, local, and federal agencies have come up with a host of suggestions for us on how to be safe, including the ubiquitous, “See Something, Say Something!”

That is great, but what exactly are we supposed to see so we can say something?

Where ever I go to train people in safety and security practices I advise everyone in the class to look for suspicious people or suspicious packages and report them to the authorities so they can be checked out. This is the focus of the entire vigilance concept.

Inevitably someone in the class will ask, “what does a suspicious person or a suspicious package look like…exactly?” Let’s think about that for a minute.

What makes someone or something suspicious?
Is it the clothes a person is wearing?
Is it where you see them?
Is it how they behave?

The answer can be yes to all of those possibilities and many more. We should always look at a person’s behavior to give us clues as to what they are up to. A person who shows up unannounced at your school or work place can be nothing more than someone who wants to talk to the boss or drop off a forgotten lunch, but before we open the door we should take a look at the person and see if there is anything that we should be concerned about.

Some of those things might be, a person trying to obscure their face with a hat or glasses, carrying something under their coat or appearing nervous. They may not have the exact name of the person they want to see and them seem insistent about coming inside.

That brings us to the suspicious package.

Is a backpack suspicious? Is a box or bag suspicious? Is a letter suspicious? Once again the answer is yes, all of these things can be suspicion items. A lot depends on where we find these packages.

Ok then, let’s see if we can clarify the situation a bit and add some focus.

Anything that is suspicious, a person or a package, has some things in common⏤the most obvious is that they are out of place. A person that wears clothing not appropriate for the setting or the weather conditions might raise suspicions. For example a man wears a long coat on a warm day, this is out of place. He might just be a person who gets chilly no matter the outside temperature, but most of us would find that odd. Is he using the coat to hide something like a gun or a large knife or machete?      

If the person is in your building and you don’t recognize them, they don’t make eye contact, they move too quickly, they are looking around as if they are trying to find someone, but they don’t respond when you ask them if they are lost or need help or they seem nervous. These signs and actions would look strange and make us uncomfortable even if we couldn’t be specific as to why. 

If you are on a bus or a train, in the park or the movie theatre, a school or office building and you see an unattended brief case or backpack you have to ask⏤did someone lose their bag, forget it or is it something else, maybe an explosive?

Do you see wires sticking out of the backpack or bag, does it have a funny smell or is it smoking? All of these are very troubling signs of a potentially dangerous object.

Here are a few examples of what a suspicious package might look like: First we have a standard backpack. At first glance there is nothing that seems out of the ordinary, but upon closer inspection we see wires sticking out of the backpack; that is suspicious and should be considered potentially dangerous⏤get away from it and try to keep others away and alert the police.

Another example is a package that is covered in duct tape, string or other medium to prevent people from opening it. If you see something like this you have to ask, “why would someone wrap a package in duct tape?”

We cannot live in a state of paranoia, but we must keep our eyes open and pay attention to what and who is around us. We should be” Aware and prepare”.

Suspicious is anything that is out of place and makes us uncomfortable.

So if you See Something, Say Something. Everyone is a part of the security team!