While traveling in New York City recently I noticed signs for the “See Something, Say Something” campaign around town.  For those who haven’t yet seen a sign or poster in their neighborhood, the slogan is intended to remind people that, when they see something that is out of the ordinary or suspicious, they should say something to someone of authority to raise awareness of the potential issue.  The program was originally implemented by the New York City Metropolitan Transportation Authority in 2001 and is now licensed to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) as a nationwide campaign.  You can get more info on the campaign and ways to help drive the message here.

This campaign is a crucial step for getting the public involved in the process of stopping potentially dangerous events from occurring.  It also raises awareness and reminds people of their role in keeping themselves and those around them safe. While the concept itself is broad enough in scope to serve as a great reminder, the purpose of this post will be to expand on details of the program that also align with the work that we do here at The CP Journal. Together, this campaign and the work that we do, both serve as helpful tools to help build community involvement in threat recognition and this post will expand on a prior writing that outlined the three pieces to the threat prevention puzzle.

Many of the types of suspicious activity outlined in training programs and literature for the “See Something, Say Something” campaign revolve around physical actions, like stealing information, data acquisition, and weapon discovery.  These are all obviously important suspicious activities to report that have been gathered based on the study of prior threatening events, but the truth is that they don’t tend to occur very frequently. Instead, because we have the luxury of observation all of the time, we at The CP Journal believe a more reliable solution is to use the “Baseline + Anomaly = Decision” formula when observing everyone and everything anywhere you go. In order for the public to be at their best at recognizing threats and preventing violent or dangerous instances from occurring, people must have a repeatable process that can be implemented in any area with a universal language and acceptance by all those involved in the process. The result of such a process will help the public accurately explain what they saw and also help law enforcement better explain to the public what they also saw and why they acted.

The baselining process that we teach at The CP Journal provides clear answers to the questions that “See Something, Say Something” raises, which are: “See what” and “Say it how?” Our observational process involves setting a baseline for all areas using the four pillars of observable behavior, individuals, groups, the environment, and the collective mood. By using these four pillars to set your baseline, you can reasonably determine what is normal for anywhere you go. For example, on a recent trip to the 30th Street Train Station in Philadelphia, I set the baseline as:

  • Collective Mood: Positive, noise level consistent with what I would expect and verified by most people in habitual areas as comfortable
  • Individuals in Habitual Areas: Comfortable
  • Individuals at Anchor Points: Uncomfortable
  • Groups: Some at Acquaintance level and some at Intimate level of relationship, as demonstrated by comfort shown by the individuals in each groups
  • Anchor Points: At the top of each entryway, at each business within the train station, and at the customer service area

Using this baseline as the context, I can then assess the intentions of others by observing how they fit or don’t fit within that baseline. If I see someone that stands out from the crowd because they are fidgety, looking around frantically, rocking from side to side, and moving their hands around a lot to touch their face and rub their person, I can determine that this person stands out from the baseline for an area of Positive Atmospherics and warrants further attention because they are displaying indicators from the uncomfortable cluster. Without the baseline, I might find it hard to accurately determine whether this person warrants “saying something,” and also would have a hard time finding the words to accurately say it. But because I know what the baseline is for the situation, I can reasonably say to someone of authority something like, “That man over there stands out from the baseline because everyone else is comfortable and this person is showing signs of discomfort like rocking from side to side, looking around frantically, and touching his face a lot.”

“See Something, Say Something” is an excellent first step to engage the public in how important the role they play is for preventing violence and proactively recognizing threats. It is important to remember, however, that everyone sees things differently, and most people speak differently as well. With a common language to observe and describe what is happening, the public can slowly improve their abilities to universally observe and report anywhere they are in the world. By committing to be a part of the observational process, the public can improve their relations with other members of the public and law enforcement to proactively recognize behavior to prevent threats.