Friday, July 22, 2005

Special Vigilance: The “Soccer Mom’s” role in protecting our communities from terrorism

When Homeland Security experts are asked about the meaning of “vigilance” and how being vigilant can help protect us from acts of terror, this question is usually asked: “What should the average “Soccer Mom” look for and report?” Unfortunately, most security experts struggle through a literal response to a question that is more figurative in nature, clouding the issue even more. In some respects, this question reflects both a frustration and lack of understanding on the part of the media and the public as to the role all of us must play in protecting our homeland.

Many of us understand that the use of the term “Soccer Mom” in this context equates to the average person who has a family to care for and who ought to be concerned about the threat of terrorism. The question becomes how can this person “connect” with what is going on from a homeland security standpoint and be better prepared to protect his/her family, business and community? When we use terms like “vigilance” and “protection”, we are not necessarily referring to activities such as spotting a terrorist or thwarting an attack. We use them within the context of a larger framework that relates to our personal responsibility to be aware of what our federal, state and local governments plan to do to protect us. Additionally, we need to be aware of the extent to which these plans have been communicated to appropriate elements within our communities at large.

Let me begin with schools because I believe them to be likely soft targets for terrorists. I made a point of this in my presentation to the Texas School Safety Center State Summit in March of 2002. Additionally, I devoted quite a bit of attention to this notion in “A Proactive Guide to the Threat of Terrorism in Public Schools”, a guide I developed on behalf of the Texas School Safety Center and the Texas Governor’s Office. The commentary I am about to make is based partially on anecdotal evidence and partially upon first hand knowledge I gathered over several years working with school districts to enhance the safety of students, teachers, and employees. I believe that many school districts that have done a superb job of preparing for a potential terror attack. That is to say, they have updated their crises plans to allow for this new threat, have rehearsed these plans, have coordinated their plans with local first responders, and have assessed security in light of these new risks. I know of even more school districts in which the possibility of being a terror target hasn’t been considered. And this is where the “Soccer Mom” plays a role. I encourage every parent who has a child in school to hold their local school board responsible for determining the status of their district’s crises plans with regard to a potential terror attack. And, since school boards are comprised of Soccer Moms too, I beseech every school board member to conduct a reasonable inquiry into the status of their district’s crisis plans with particular regard to the increased risk caused by 9/11. District plans can easily be evaluated against known best practice documents such as “A Proactive Guide to the Threat of Terrorism in Public Schools”, or other criteria developed by state level school safety agencies. I don’t expect plans to be discussed in an open and detailed format (in fact this would be detrimental) but I would expect the board to perform due-diligence in order to determine the true status of terror related plans. Soccer Moms can spearhead this cause by forcing the issue at school board meetings and following up throughout the process.

Businesses have an obligation as well to be aware of what they can do to help make their employees and local communities safer. Awareness is evident amongst defense contractors, security service companies, food service organizations, utilities, transportation, and certain other technology sector businesses. Sadly, outside of these sectors, most businesses have not assessed their role in deterring terrorism. I maintain that the most significant thing any business can do is to hire workers who are documented and who have a legal right to work in the United States. Terror cell members normally work somewhere and that somewhere may just be a small local business. Additionally, terror cell members are inclined to cross the boarders illegally so as to avoid any official documentation. Under this current threat, every U.S. business has the responsibility to hire only legal workers and to scrutinize the employees they hire with regard to the documents they present. Further, it is incumbent upon all hiring authorities to properly educate themselves on I-9 procedures and on recognizing false employment documents. I have written several articles on this point some of which are posted on this blog.

Here, again, I call on the Soccer Moms in the work force to ask of their employers: “Has the mail room clerk (or any other person who handles the mail) been trained to recognize and respond to suspicious packages?” “Is the receptionist aware of how to respond to bomb threats or other threatening calls? “What is being done to identify strangers on the premises or other persons who may be acting suspiciously?” “Are human resource employees trained on how to identify and respond to falsified INS or other documents?” “Is my company properly screening the employees it hires?” “Have security procedures been reviewed against the current threat?” “Has IT security and web site content been examined against our new threat?.” “Are your suppliers and vendors screening their employees properly and otherwise exercising proper security procedures”?

As a security professional I urge security professionals everywhere (some of whom I am sure are Soccer Moms) to ask these same questions of their own companies or on behalf of the companies with which they consult. I urge you to attend seminars, read profusely, and to learn everything you can learn about the terrorist threat we now face. Your job is to educate department heads within your company to be aware of and to appreciate what they can do to be vigilant. You may be accused of being a security zealot, but this should be nothing new to most of you.

I truly believe that the vast majority of U.S. citizens still have no idea of just how immediate and how severe of a threat terrorism poses to our lives, lifestyles, careers, and financial futures. We witnessed the devastation of 9/11, grew tired of mourning and holding on to the pain, and then became resolved to regain our lives and the way we used to feel. To some degree we should all feel assured in knowing that our Homeland Security Department at the state and local levels are vigilant in their quest to thwart the next terror attack. Although they have extensive resources at their disposal, the one resource they really need are the legions of soccer moms who know how to get involved at the grassroots level and who appreciate why they need to do so. I urge all soccer moms to learn all you can learn about who wants to hurt you and your families and to press your local governments, schools, and other key community organizations to demonstrate, to the best of their ability, that they have updated their plans to reflect this new threat. Most importantly, have key organizations within the community coordinated their plans, or do plans that ought to have been coordinated exist in a vacuum?

Homeland security experts recommend that each family develop a personal plan in the event of a terror attack. In this regard, I am less interested in collecting duct tape and plastic wrap that I am in knowing how family members will communicate with one another and reunite if a crisis occurs. Again, what is important here is to learn where the information you need resides and how to access it. For example, has your school district included plans to reunite students with their families as part of their crises management program; and, how will they communicate these plans? Where will family members meet if they cannot go to the primary residence? How will you stay in contact with one another? There are a number of web sites and other sources available that provide tips for creating personal family plans.

Last, I would like to point out one significant area in which your government has failed you. That is, in securing the boarder – particularly the U.S. / Mexico boarder. I urge soccer moms everywhere to write their U.S. Senator and congressional representative. Let them know how our current boarder protection policy is failing us with regard to our personal security, and how it is almost certainly facilitating our next terror attack.

Related Links:

Special Vigilance: How employers can protect their assets and their communities Our Special Vigilance:

Special Vigilance: Is your School District Prepared for the Threat of Terrorism?


Post a Comment

<< Home