WASHINGTON — A report from a transportation research organization shows that programs along the lines of “see something, say something” seem to work.
The slogan has been around for over a decade, but the results of regular people reporting suspicious packages or bags on public transportation has been tracked since 1970, according to the California-based Mineta Transportation Institute. Some of the data considered came from the UK when the IRA was carrying out a bombing campaign in Northern Ireland and England in the 1970s and 1980s. Other information came from Israel when public transportation was targeted by terrorist groups in the same period of time.
In the organization’s latest report, released earlier in December, author Brian Michael Jenkins wrote that passengers and staff have prevented more than 10 percent of all terror attacks on surface public transportation.
“Detection rates are even better in economically advanced countries,” he added.
The Department of Homeland Security reminds people to contact local law enforcement if they see something that does not “seem quite right.” Be sure to include “who or what you saw, when you saw it, where it occurred and why it’s suspicious.”
The Mineta Transportation Institute said the tactic is particularly useful in thwarting attacks by suicide bombers. The organization notes, however, that suicide bombers will often detonate their devices when confronted, but that prevents them from making it to their intended target.
The institute used examples from just a few days in September 2016, to illustrate the value of regular people taking note of suspicious items and alerting police.
On Sept. 17, 2016, an unattended bag was reported near the start of a charity five-kilometer run in Seaside Heights, New Jersey. The start was delayed and no runners were present when the device detonated.
Later that night, in New York City, a woman reported seeing wires coming from a pressure cooker. Authorities were able to prevent the explosion of the device, which was similar to another device that did explode nearby, wounding more than 30 people.
A day later, some men found a surprisingly heavy backpack in Elizabeth, New Jersey. They alerted police, who prevented the device from causing any harm.
The Institute notes that this particular stretch of success, while anecdotal, illustrates the value of concerned citizens taking action.
The campaign works especially well on trains and within rail stations, with road attacks coming second and bus attacks coming in third. For more details, the full report can be found on Mineta Institute’s website.