On Saturday a bomb exploded along the route of a charity 5K run for Marines and Sailors. Later that night another bomb, a “pressure cooker” bomb as they are called because they are made with pressure cookers normally used for cooking dinner, exploded in New York City and a third unexploded pressure cooker bomb was located in a trash can a few blocks away. And then on Sunday night a back pack with 5 pipe bombs was located on a train platform in Elizabeth.
All of these devices were designed to maim and kill innocent people; read that you and me, our family members and friends. The war on terror has come to the shore.
In 2001 NJ was affected by the horrific attack on the World Trade Center when many of our local citizens lost their lives in that event, but that didn’t happen in our neighborhood. Since then New York City and other larger cities have been at the center of the crosshairs of the terrorists, but this past weekend we have all been targeted in our own communities.
So what do we do? Do we view this series of bombings as an aberration or do we see if for what it is; a new battlefield in the war?
It is clearly a new battlefield, an expanded battle field and we must all be aware of our surroundings at all times. That does not mean being paranoid, or living in fear, it means being vigilant when you are out in public. If you see someone acting suspiciously, or you see something suspicious like a back pack or bag left in an inappropriate place, make sure you tell someone in authority.
When you add to the bigger picture the lone wolf knife attack at the shopping mall in Minnesota where 9 shoppers were attacked by a man in a security uniform, it becomes clear that the terrorists, be they lone wolves, people influenced by foreign terror groups or actual terrorist that have infiltrated our borders, are intent on hurting us where we live.
We count on our leaders to keep us safe by ensuring they do everything they can to uncover potential threats or plots before they take place and preventing any violence; creating a shield of safety.
That shield can be seen in the form of every police officer walking a beat or driving around town in a patrol car, and includes our state Troopers that cruise the highways. Together, along with our county and federal agencies they form a team, but there are other important members of this team; and we are those members. We are the eyes and ears of the team.
Each one of us must be prepared to respond to violence if it takes place where ever we are. That response might be taking cover, or helping someone else get to safety or it might mean fighting back if that’s your only choice. No matter what we do it all starts with a mindset; we must consider the potential for danger and consider what we can actually do.
In the Minnesota mall attack, there was an off duty police officer that jumped into action and did what he could do to stop the attack. In Linden NJ the officers there confronted the Shore Bomber and engaged him in a gun fight and won. These officers are trained to react and that training no doubt saved lives. What can you do?
Not everyone can fight physically and in many cases most people should not engage a violent person unless you have no choice to save your life or the life a family member, but you can be prepared to call for help, seek shelter, remain calm, provides details by being a good witness. All of this requires the right mindset; that means recognizing that this war on terror can now take place anywhere- if you see something say something.
And for our local police officers, we should support them in all their efforts with the knowledge that they will do everything they can to protect us and our families. That’s how a team works.
These attacks also tell us that the people who would hurt us are looking for “Soft” targets. Soft targets are easy targets: like the people in a shopping center, a movie theater, or other gathering places. We protect ourselves by paying attention to exits, and places where we could take cover in an event. During a recent trip to the city I was standing outside a large train station where thousands of people were coming and going, cabs pulling up and leaving constantly. I was there with one of my children and I could not help feeling vulnerable, I was not scared, but my senses were heightened.
I looked around at the people and activities around me and glanced at the places I could take my son and go if anything jumped off. This might seem like unnecessary precaution but it was actually fortifying. Because I took a minute to consider “safety” concerns and I had some idea of what I would do, it was comforting.
This is the essence of the mindset I have mentioned a few times. I was just being aware and giving safety some thought. I teach this type of safety planning to schools and business people all the time and the concepts are the same; being aware.
This is what I suggest to you no matter if you are in the city, or in a local shopping mall. Don’t let fear control you or change your life, but make safety a part of what you do when you are out; by doing that you will be safer.
In many investigations after an incident we find that the people that had a safety mindset and gave their options some thought did better than people that simply reacted to a violent incident in a panic.
So here we are in this new world, a world where we have to worry about these things in our own neighborhoods. How we respond will determine our quality of life. We should be intimidated, we should be prepared. We should not cower we should take action. We should not assume it will never happen here, we should be alert. If we do these things we will be ready to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe.
Let me know what you think.
– Joseph Pangaro is a retired Ocean Township police officer.