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Terrorism Awareness and You

Terrorism awareness by the public aids law enforcement by providing information to police that can help prevent terrorist incidents.

The definition of "terrorist activity" according to the Criminal Code of Canada means:

(a) an act or omission that is committed in or outside Canada and that, if committed in Canada, is one of the following offences:

(i) the offences referred to in subsection 7(2) that implement the Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Seizure of Aircraft, signed at The Hague on December 16, 1970,

(ii) the offences referred to in subsection 7(2) that implement the Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Civil Aviation, signed at Montreal on September 23, 1971,

(iii) the offences referred to in subsection 7(3) that implement the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Crimes against Internationally Protected Persons, including Diplomatic Agents, adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on December 14, 1973,

(iv) the offences referred to in subsection 7(3.1) that implement the International Convention against the Taking of Hostages, adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on December 17, 1979,

(v) the offences referred to in subsection 7(3.4) or (3.6) that implement the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material, done at Vienna and New York on March 3, 1980,

(vi) the offences referred to in subsection 7(2) that implement the Protocol for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts of Violence at Airports Serving International Civil Aviation, supplementary to the Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Civil Aviation, signed at Montreal on February 24, 1988,

(vii) the offences referred to in subsection 7(2.1) that implement the Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Maritime Navigation, done at Rome on March 10,1988,

(viii) the offences referred to in subsection 7(2.1) or (2.2) that implement the Protocol for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Fixed Platforms Located on the Continental Shelf, done at Rome on March 10, 1988,

(ix) the offences referred to in subsection 7(3.72) that implement the International Convention for the Suppression of Terrorist Bombings, adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on December 15, 1997, and

(x) the offences referred to in subsection 7(3.73) that implement the International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism, adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on December 9, 1999, or

(b) an act or omission, in or outside Canada, (i) that is committed:

(A) in whole or in part for a political, religious or ideological purpose, objective or cause, and

(B) in whole or in part with the intention of intimidating the public, or a segment of the public, with regard to its security, including its economic security, or compelling a person, a government or a domestic or an international organization to do or to refrain from doing any act, whether the public or the person, government or organization is inside or outside Canada, and

(ii) that intentionally:
(A) causes death or serious bodily harm to a person by the use of violence,
(B) endangers a person's life,
(C) causes a serious risk to the health or safety of the public or any segment of the public,
(D) causes substantial property damage, whether to public or private property, if causing such damage is likely to result in the conduct or harm referred to in any of clauses (A) to (C), or
(E) causes serious interference with or serious disruption of an essential service, facility or system, whether public or private, other than as a result of advocacy, protest, dissent or stoppage of work that is not intended to result in the conduct or harm referred to in any of clauses (A) to (C), and includes a conspiracy, attempt or threat to commit any such act or omission, or being an accessory after the fact or counselling in relation to any such act or omission, but, for greater certainty, does not include an act or omission that is committed during an armed conflict and that, at the time and in the place of its commission, is in accordance with customary international law or conventional international law applicable to the conflict, or the activities undertaken by military forces of a state in the exercise of their official duties, to the extent that those activities are governed by other rules of international law.

 "Terrorist Group" means: 

(b) a listed entity,and includes an association of such entities.
(a) an entity that has as one of its purposes or activities facilitating or carrying out any terrorist activity, or

This section is intended to provide you with some commonsense measures you can take to protect your community from people who would use terrorism against you.

It's time to choose between being a spectator or a participant in our country's security. Why?

  • Security, police, and the military can't be everywhere.
  • Terrorism personally affects every individual.
  • Heightened awareness communicates confidence that we are not easy targets.
  • It works!

Terrorist Vulnerabilities

Don't think that terrorists have it easy!

  • They must live among us without looking suspicious while planning and preparing for their attack.
  • They often need training or equipment that will arouse suspicion.
  • They need to surreptitiously conduct surveillance on possible targets and gather information.

All these things leave terrorists vulnerable to detection, if we are alert and, if we report it! How do we recognize the difference between normal and abnormal behaviour?

Staying Alert

By staying alert in our travels and daily routines and getting to know:

  • Who our neighbors are
  • What cars are normally in our neighborhood
  • Who regularly makes deliveries at work
  • Who the regular maintenance and cleaning people are at work
  • What is appropriate in our work area so we can identify what isn't

Staying alert is NOT paranoia. Staying alert is simply being aware of one's surroundings. Some indications of possible trouble may include:

  • A local activity that could indicate problems in your community.
  • Previous activity or crimes.
  • Tension between groups.
  • Controversial issues being debated.
  • Suspicious thefts. Pay attention to:
  • Issues that have been in the media.
  • Local/national/international news that may increase the risk for certain groups or facilities.
  • Government-released "threat notices" indicating a threat against a type of facility.

Recognizing Suspicious Activity

Identifying suspicious activity is not a hard science. You have to rely on your judgment. Your suspicion of a threat could be confirmed with one incident. It could take a series of incidents. In the long run, it comes down to:

  • Experience
  • Judgment
  • Common sense

Let's review some possible suspicious activity. These examples may not always justify reporting. They may not always lead to criminal or terrorist activity.

Unusual Requests for Information

Unusual requests for information can be a warning sign of terrorist activity:

  • A telephone request at work asking about the security system.
  • Questions about the habits of your Chief Executive Officer.
  • A mail survey asking for comments on the response time and habits of emergency personnel.

Although possibly legitimate, these are also techniques used by terrorists to gather information while planning an attack. Do NOT give out sensitive information unless you know the party you're talking to and they have a need for that information.

Unusual Interest in High Risk or Symbolic Targets

Maybe you are at a tourist attraction and you notice a person nearby taking a lot of photos. Not unusual. But then you notice that he is only taking photos of the surveillance cameras, crash barriers at the entrances, and access control procedures. Is that normal for a tourist? Absolutely not.

The following should cause a heightened sense of concern:

  • unusual interest
  • surveillance
  • inappropriate photographs or videos
  • note-taking
  • drawing of diagrams
  • annotating maps
  • using binoculars or night vision devices

Unusual Activity

Unusual activity does not necessarily mean that terrorist activity is happening, but it doesn't hurt to be aware of:

  • People acting furtively and suspiciously
  • People avoiding eye contact
  • People departing quickly when seen or approached
  • People in places they don't belong
  • A strong odor coming from a building or vehicle
  • An overloaded vehicle
  • Fluid leaking from a vehicle, other than the engine or gas tank
  • Over dressed for the weather

Fraudulent Identification

Many 9/11 terrorists were in the country illegally using fraudulent IDs. Altering or using false government identification in any way and for any purpose is against the law. This includes:

  • drivers license
  • social security card
  • passport
  • birth certificate
  • INS identification

If you believe someone is using or has altered government identification, notify the police. Do NOT request to see another person's ID when not appropriate. Let the police do the investigating.

Numerous Visitors

Terrorists, when not acting alone, need to meet with their conspirators. Pay attention to visitors:

  • arriving and leaving at unusual hours
  • trying not to be noticed
  • acting in a suspicious manner
  • parking an unusual distance from the meeting
  • an unusual number of unrelated people living together

Avoiding Community Contact

Not all people who maintain their privacy are terrorists! But people intent on doing illegal acts want to be left alone. They may:

  • only let you into the apartment or house with plenty of prior notice
  • change the locks often
  • keep certain rooms off limits
  • cover tables and other pieces of furniture
  • never allow maid service in a hotel room
  • only take hotel room service outside the door
  • only accept deliveries at the hotel's front desk or outside a closed door

Large/Unusual/High Risk Deliveries

Deliveries are a common method for terrorists to carry out attacks. You should be aware of:

  • a vehicle with hazardous material parked or driving in an inappropriate area
  • unusual deliveries of chemicals or fertilizer
  • unattended bags or boxes in a public access place
  • fire extinguishers that may have been moved or tampered with
  • unusual or unexpected mail

Unusual Purchases or Thefts

Terrorists need supplies to carry out their attacks and accomplish their goals. Pay attention to purchases, rentals or thefts of:

  • police, security, public utility, mail carrier, or airline uniforms and equipment
  • explosives
  • weapons
  • ammunition
  • propane bottles
  • toxic chemicals
  • vehicles able to contain or haul hazardous materials

Providing an Accurate Report

In order to be as helpful as possible with terrorist investigations, it is important to give a thorough report when notifying law enforcement.

Let's go over guidelines, suggestions, and the type of detail you will need to supply to an officer responding to your call of suspicious activity.

Keep in mind, the responding officer may only have the information you gave at the time of your call.

There are two key elements in giving a good report:

  • Accuracy
  • Timeliness

Accuracy means reporting what you saw, and nothing more.

Do NOT add juicy "might have happened" to make the situation sound more important. However, it is appropriate to include the reason the activity seemed suspicious, even if it's simply, "It wasn't normal."

Timeliness means that after a certain period of time, the suspicious situation will change, people will leave, or possibly alter their appearance.

It's very important to report anything suspicious immediately after you observed it happening.

What to Report

It is important for the responding officer to quickly spot the suspicious person or activity. You can help by providing details and creating a "word picture."? Changeable details such as activity are important, but may not be the same once the officer arrives. Permanent details are very important, because they are difficult to change quickly.

When reporting a person, include:

  • Hair color
  • Facial hair
  • Race
  • Age
  • Sex
  • Size
  • Scars
  • Tattoos
  • Disabilities


When reporting a vehicle, include:

  • Make
  • Model
  • Color
  • Body damage
  • Bumper stickers
  • Accessories
  • License plate number


Practice developing descriptions of vehicles you see on your commute or people you encounter in your everyday activities. The more you practice, the better your observation skills will become and the better you will do when nervous or excited.

Let's review the main points to remember when reporting suspicious activity: 

  • Never endanger yourself!
  • Never confront suspicious activity!
  • Tell just what you saw!
  • Tell why it is suspicious!
  • Write it ALL down after you report it! But who should you call to make a report?
First evaluate whether it is an emergency or non-emergency situation.

Emergency: Call your local emergency number, usually 911.

If you think a life is in danger or a serious crime is about to be committed, call 911. If you are within an office building or place of business, you may first need to dial an access number for an outside line.

Non-Emergency: Call a non-emergency number listed in the phone book.

If it is not an emergency, but you think that the person or situation should be investigated, do NOT tie up the 911 emergency number.

Most local police agencies have non-emergency numbers. Take the time now to look it up and record it in a handy place.

Tip Lines

Perhaps you notice suspicious activity that doesn't warrant immediate attention, or a past incident or person is still on your mind. You can pass that information along to authorities using security tip lines.

(to report information regarding terrorism, criminal extremism or suspicious activities which could pose a threat to national safety and security)

We would like to acknowledge and thank the PA Commission on Crime and Delinquency for use of this material.

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