Officials: Stay alert for threats
August 1, 2012
By VINCE LITTLE
FORT BENNING, Ga. (Aug.1, 2012) -- August is Antiterrorism Awareness Month, but Fort Benning leaders say vigilance and a heightened understanding of potential threats are solid practices throughout the year.
The theme in 2012 is "Know Your Surroundings," an effort to reinforce the importance of individual situational awareness by highlighting factors to look for in any security environment.
As part of the Armywide campaign -- now in its third year -- Soldiers, civilians, retirees and Family members are reminded to participate in iWATCH, set up as a neighborhood watch program on installations.
"They are everywhere and see everything that happens on the installation," said Tim Price, the installation antiterrorism officer. "Their individual situational awareness and knowledge of the iWATCH tenets -- I watch, I report, I keep us safe -- may provide that piece of the puzzle that prevents a catastrophic event from occurring on the installation. Their vigilance is vital to our continued safety. This is our home and family; let's all protect it."
More than a decade removed from 9/11, there's a natural tendency for people to fall back into an "it'll-never-happen-to-me" mindset, said Laney Rich, an antiterrorism specialist on post, adding that terror organizations feed off that false feeling of security.
"The farther you get from a significant event, the sense of complacency can grow," he said. "When you least expect it is when it'll happen. So we should not and cannot ever let our guard down. … Terrorist organizations are still out there every day trying to identify a weakness and always trying to come up with some method that they can attack us again, anywhere in the world."
Rich said Fort Benning personnel need to maintain constant vigilance. Highlighting oddities and curious behavior doesn't make somebody a "snitch" -- if you see an individual taking photographs of an important building, a vehicle parked for a long period of time, or packages and boxes placed next to a facility, it's always better to err on the side of caution.
"If you see something, say something," he said. "We are all sensors. It's important to be aware of your surroundings. And if you see anything suspicious or out of the ordinary, report it, because that one phone call or contact can actually stop something before it starts.
"In the vast majority of cases, these turn out to be nothing serious. But you never know -- that one time you don't report something may be the one time you really needed to."
The antiterrorism office routinely works with installation units and agencies to refine their programs, procedures and plans in the event of a terror strike or incident, Rich said. The organization also reviews contracts to ensure compliance with antiterrorism standards.
Every year, the office stages an emergency response exercise on post to validate Fort Benning's plans and procedures for tackling a major crisis with mass-casualty potential. In March, it rehearsed a single-shooter scenario during a unit homecoming at Freedom Hall.
"When we do these exercises, it's a good opportunity for us to work with outside agencies, refine our procedures and go back and look at our plans to see if something needs to be changed," Rich said. "We need to consistently ensure that we're prepared for anything that happens."
This month, antiterrorism officials will set up displays and information booths at the Post Exchange and commissary. No dates have been announced, but Rich said at least two events are planned during the lunch hour.
They also intend to again distribute materials such as posters, puzzles and coloring sheets at all post schools to bring awareness to students at the outset of the new academic year, he said.
Rich urges all personnel to get information about suspicious activity into authority channels and let the professionals sort it out.
"We want to constantly promote a sense of awareness and vigilance in antiterrorism," he said. "Our bottom line has been and is now, if you see something, say something, and let the experts decide. That's the main thing."