Last week's murders of Five American servicemen by the suspected shooter Mohammod Youssef Abdulazeez, described by authorities as a homegrown violent extremist," highlights yet again the need for preparation against not only an active shooter, but also the need to observe, report, and respond to suspicious activity and persons. Suspicious activity , as defined by the US Department of Homeland Security, is any observed behavior that could indicate terrorism or terrorism-related crime. This includes, but is not limited to:

Unusual items or situations that seem out of place: Something as simple as a vehicle parked in an odd location, a package/luggage is unattended, a window/door is open that is usually closed, or other out-of-the-ordinary situations occur.

Suspicious attempts to gather information: Most people are generally annoyed by sales calls and solicitors seeking information, but be mindful if they are trying to gather more information than a solicitor would normally need. Make a note of who called, where they called from, and what they wanted. When someone's level of curiosity about a building’s or an organizations purpose, operations, security procedures and/or personnel doesn't seem necessary, it can be a legitimate cause for concern.

Observation/surveillance: Someone focuses unusual attention to facilities or buildings beyond a casual or professional interest. This includes extended loitering without explanation (particularly in concealed locations); unusual, repeated, and/or prolonged observation of a building (e.g., with binoculars or video camera); taking notes or measurements; counting paces; sketching floor plans, etc. Someone without official business that exhibits this behavior should be questioned about their activities.

While  many of these activities could be fairly innocent, and corrected with a courteous explanation from a security guard as to why their behavior is suspicious or inappropriate, you should rely on your judgment to assess what could lead to a potentially dangerous incident. The activities listed are certainly not all-inclusive, but have been compiled by the US Department of Homeland Security based on studies of pre-operational aspects of both successful and thwarted terrorist events over several years.

How to Report Suspicious Activity

Public safety is of the utmost importance to the security professional. If you see suspicious activity, report it.

Describe specifically what you observed, including:

Who or what you saw;

When you saw it;

Where it occurred; and

Why it's suspicious.


If the observations you recorded necessitate an immediate response from law enforcement, do not hesitate to call them. Otherwise, make your fellow security professionals and supervisors aware of what you saw.

Also, be mindful of the Department of Homeland Security's approach to handling people's privacy and civil liberties. As a security professional, you must remain attentive at all times, but provide exceptional customer service to everyone you encounter. Be mindful that you will come across many different people of varying backgrounds and cultures, so always conduct yourself appropriately and be sensitive to people's needs and expectations. Here is the DHS' procedure:

Respecting Citizens' Privacy & Civil Liberties

The "If You See Something, Say Something™" campaign respects citizens' privacy, civil rights, and civil liberties by emphasizing behavior, rather than appearance, in identifying suspicious activity.

Factors such as race, ethnicity, and/or religious affiliation are not suspicious. The public should only report suspicious behavior and situations (e.g., an unattended backpack or package, or someone breaking into a restricted area). Only reports that document behavior that is reasonably indicative of criminal activity related to terrorism will be shared with federal partners.