Island Business Owners Schooled in Terror Prevention

Jun 14, 2017
Photo by: Jack Reynolds

The harsh reality of terrorism came to idyllic Long Beach Island last week. Invited by the Southern Ocean County Chamber of Commerce, it shattered the bubble that nothing as ugly and disturbing as terrorism – foreign or domestic – could happen 6 miles at sea and asked for the public to be vigilant if  they see or hear something suspicious.

On June 7, a Hometown Security Initiative program was hosted by the chamber in partnership with the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security Preparedness; the federal Department of Homeland Security; and the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office. The goal of the initiative, which was established by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, is to help local businesses better support the safety and security of its communities.

“The most real assets are the people who live here, work here and bring their families here,” Lori Pepenella, chief executive officer of the chamber, said when addressing the standing-room-only crowd at the Ship Bottom Firehouse.

It was a sentiment echoed  by nearly every speaker during the two-hour-long forum attended by approximately 50 people, including representatives from all five of the Island’s police departments.

“It all goes back to the local citizens being aware of what goes on,” Ocean County Prosecutor Joseph Coronato – also former municipal judge in Ship Bottom and Harvey Cedars – said of preventing an incident. “So what if you are wrong.”

Ship Bottom Police Sgt. Michael Nash put it into perspective: “We can be right 99 times. They only need to be right once.”

Using the September 2016 pipe-bomb explosion during the Seaside Semper Five Marine Corps Charity 5K in Seaside Heights as the backdrop, nearly every law enforcement and emergency management professional stressed that terrorists are more focused on soft targets, such as places of worship and ball games, than hard targets, such as power plants.

“We’re only as soft or hard as our training,” Nash said. “We are 18 miles of soft targets. It doesn’t take a genius to see weaknesses.”

That raises the question of how to strengthen Long Beach Island to thwart or react to any act of terror.

“No one knows better what is out of place (in your community) than you,” said Joe Conrey, critical infrastructure coordinator for the state Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness. “If you see something, say something.”

Asked to provide some tips for what local business owners and their employees should look for, he said “It’s not about what they’re wearing; it’s about what they’re doing.”

To drive the point home further, he said if someone at the local grocery store isn’t doing what most people do at the grocery store, it might be worth a phone call to local police.

“Don’t be afraid to make the call,” said Conrey, who spent his childhood summers on Long Beach Island. “Your life and ours depends on it.”

There are eight signs of terrorism, he said. If business owners train themselves and their employees to recognize indicators, it’s possible to prevent an attack.

  • Surveillance. If terrorists are targeting a specific area, they will likely be in the area during the planning phase.
  • Eliciting information. This can pertain to person, place, or thing and be conducted by phone, email, mail or fax.
  • Testing security. Moving into sensitive areas; areas that are blocked off for an event.
  • Getting supplies. Terror supplies are no longer just explosives, weapons and ammunition. They now include fertilizer, chemicals, and easy-to-obtain items such as knives or rental vehicles.
  • Suspicious people. These are people who are in an environment where they clearly do not belong or who make unusual statements and/or ask odd questions.

Knowing these signs is important in a county whose population doubles during the summer months, increasing from 600,000 to 1.2 million. The entire state of Maine has a population of 1.5 million, and New Hampshire has a population of 1.6 million, Coronato said.

With the influx of summer visitors a few weeks away, Conrey offered some safety tips for outdoor gatherings:

  • Remove unauthorized vehicles. If a car or other vehicle breaches a roadblock, it could be an early warning sign.
  • Remove unnecessary trash receptacles.
  • Inspect deliveries where and whenever possible.
  • Stagger arrival and departure times, if possible.

“Let your local police department help you put your plans in place,” he said, offering his final and best tip. “Just because it’s an outdoor event doesn’t mean you can’t control it. If they (notice) someone is watching, you’re halfway there. Create the perception.”

New Jersey State Police Capt. Joe Sansone agreed, saying, “The bad guys are going to respond a certain way to a uniform.”

And while everyday people may not recognize those signs, law enforcement will, he said.

The key to a safe event is in the planning details and working with local enforcement, Conrey said.

“They will tell you what they like and what they don’t like,” he said. “It’s not about working harder, but working smarter.”

— Gina G. Scala

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