Homeland Security hits home

THE EVENTS of Sept. 11, 2001 forever changed the way the American government handles security, and everyone has been affected by it.

Whether you know a soldier who has served or is serving overseas in the war against terrorism, or if you’ve been subject to a thorough pat-down at the airport, is evident that a proactive approach is being taken to prevent, detect and deter potential terrorist activities.

Since the Department of Homeland Security was established in the wake of 9/11, these efforts have continued to grow, develop into new programs and reach beyond the federal and state levels into local communities across the country.

Now nearly a decade after the worst terrorist attack in our nation’s history, Homeland Security has strong roots in the communities we call home, and average citizens can play a role in the ongoing fight, as well.

Ohio’s Strategic Analysis and Information Center (SAIC) was created in 2005 as a central information resource that supports local, state and federal agencies as they investigate terrorism and other related criminal activity. The “fusion center” as it is known helps coordinate information needed to effectively conduct counterterrorism. Disjointed information sharing channels were cited as an Achilles heel that led to as the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

“As a result of the 9/11 Commission Report, the National Network of Fusion Centers was created through a joint effort of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Department of Justice and the Office of National Intelligence,” said Lindsey Bohrer of the Ohio Department of Safety’s division of Homeland Security. “Our Strategic Analysis and Information Center is one of 72 centers that make up the National Fusion Center Network and is designated by the governor as the primary state fusion center.”

Bohrer said “fusing information” that includes suspicious activity from the public and private sectors starts the ball rolling on intelligence that gives officials the ability to take action to detect and prevent terrorism, whether it stem from international schemes or domestic terrorism.

Last September, the SAIC relocated to a new 9,000-square-foot complex in Columbus, complete with state-of-the-art communication and audio visual capabilities. The new facility was built to comply with national security standards and co-locates the Columbus police terrorism early warning unit, U.S. Department of Homeland Security Office of Intelligence and Analysis and Transportation Security Administration representatives and Federal Bureau of Investigation.

“The SAIC provides an environment where all agencies can share information and capabilities,” said Bohrer.

A key role of the SAIC is to keep lines of communication open on the local level throughout Ohio. The office of Ohio Homeland Security developed a curriculum that delivers programs that provide specialized training to more than 350 state and local law enforcement officers and fire personnel.

Locally, Sgt. John Bumba of the Martins Ferry Police Department is the liaison for the program. A veteran law enforcement officer in the Ohio Valley, Bumba puts a local face on the array of agents who make up the now wide-reaching network that is Homeland Security.

The Terrorism Liaison Officer program was created in 2008 to sensitize local law enforcement representatives to the complexities of terrorism and to provide specific training in the areas of current technologies, tactics and procedures, multi-cultural relations, the intelligence cycle, citizen privacy and civil rights, and the proper handling of intelligence, Bohrer said.

“We mainly pass on information from department to department,” said Bumba, who has served as the local Terrorism Liaison Officer for about a year. “We monitor Web sites from the state and federal levels. There is a great deal of information out there, and we make sure this information is being shared by the appropriate parties.”

Terrorism Liaison Officers also monitor “strategic target areas” where terrorist may likely strike, from large gatherings at local events to major infrastructure sites ranging from railroads to hospitals to water towers.

Ohio also has a comprehensive statewide preparedness strategy for preventing, protecting against, responding to and recovering from any and all hazards.

“This strategy is constantly evolving to address the emerging threats facing our state and nation,” said Bohrer. “Also, our strategy is a combination of local needs and national priorities developed through roundtable discussions.”

The average citizen can play a key role in the counterterrorism effort, too. Ohio Homeland Security now has a “See Something, Say Something” campaign designed to gather information from the general public.

“It’s an initiative that offers additional suggestions on spotting suspicious activity that may be related to terrorism,” said Bohrer. “In the event you do observe suspicious activity, you should report it to your local law enforcement agency first. If the activity, person or incident that you are reporting is part of an emergency situation or requires immediate attention, then please dial 911.”

Citizens are also encouraged to utilize the Ohio Terrorism Tip Line, which can be reached at 1-877-647-4683. Information can also be submitted through an Ohio Homeland Security tip form which can be found online at homeland security.ohio.gov.

Some examples of suspicious activity include surveillance, suspicious questioning, tests of security, acquiring supplies that can be used in terrorist attacks, suspicious activity such as mapping routes that could be used if planning a terrorist attack, stockpiling materials, abandoned vehicles or bags near key facilities and other situations that may raise red flags.

Officials stressed that the “See Something, Say Something” program does not promote spying on your neighbor, invading someone’s privacy or taking the law into your own hands. It does not profile individuals who look, act, dress or live differently from most people; it strictly profiles behavior that may be linked to terrorism.

In the fight against terrorism, we should profile behavior, not individuals, officials said.

“Threats are ever-evolving, and consequently, there are always new trends to be aware of,” said Bohrer. “We need to start focusing on what attacks could come next based on lessons we learned in past experiences. We need to creatively think about threats we will be faced with in the future.”

With the new information sharing protocols, officials now have a strong system in place to continue developing tactics, techniques and procedures to counter emerging threats, Bohrer said.

The threat of terrorism will always exists, but officials are now poised to stay one step ahead.

“We’re always looking at ways to improve our lines of communication,” said Bohrer. “We’re assessing ways to target violent extremists and are building new systems for cyber security. The means to do it is by information sharing.”

Ayres can be reached at eayres@timesleaderonline.com.