Safety Tips for Domestic Terrorism
The following tips are some safety considerations for journalists and editors. Among issues to consider are potential mass casualty assaults on infrastructure or places where many people gather, as well as planned assassinations on politicians or other public figures.
On January 27, the Department of Homeland Security warned of a heightened threat environment across the United States by violent extremists opposed to the new presidential administration. Due to the hostility towards the media by conspiracy theorists and rightwing militias, journalists could be targets or encounter acts of domestic terror during the course of their work.
The DHS alert signalled that the coming weeks could be particularly fraught. The following tips are some safety considerations for journalists and editors planning coverage in the near future. Among issues to consider are potential mass casualty assaults on infrastructure or places where many people gather, as well as planned assassinations on politicians or other public figures.
ASSESS AND MITIGATE RISK
News managers should evaluate the potential risk of attacks on staff and come up with plans to mitigate such. If you work in an area with an active militia presence, and have received threats, it may be worth consulting a private security advisor or local law enforcement about appropriate measures to secure the news operation and staff.
Editors should consider discussing security with the management of buildings housing newsrooms, regardless of whether staff go to the office in numbers at this time. Extremists may want to attack the premises as a symbolic act. Evaluate vulnerable points that an intruder could use to gain entry. (An underground parking garage? An unmanned entrance?) Consider steps that can be taken to bolster security, such as CCTV cameras and hiring guards.
Government buildings and offices of politicians are likely targets for extremists. Make sure staff who cover local or state politics have safety protocols for when they report on site, or approach the premises.
Report and document every threat, no matter how minor it might seem at the time. Even if you or your news outlet has a complicated relationship with law enforcement, making a report aids the building of a legal case. Aside from advising the police, contact your local FBI office or phone 1-800-CALLFBI (225-5324) for the Major Case Contact Center. Provide logs of dates, times, recordings of phone calls, screenshots of chats, texts and emails. The FBI also has a specific complaint center for Internet crime, reachable here.
ONLINE HARASSMENT AND DOXXING
Online harassment can escalate to doxxing, when someone maliciously uses the internet to publicly reveal online personal information such as your address, telephone number or email for intimidation and harassment purposes. Publishing where you live can make you vulnerable to physical attacks. Women need to be particularly careful about what information is publicly available, as they receive a disproportionate proportion of doxxing and stalking abuse.
In order to make it harder for perpetrators to physically track you down, don’t post on social media about places like restaurants or parks that you like to frequent. Even just publishing the obituary of a parent or a wedding announcement makes it easier for someone to find personal details.
To see what information is out there about you, check out online databases like AnyWho, Whitepages.com, Spokeo and Intelius. Also access Google’s “Me on the Web” tool. Set it up for personal info like your name, address, telephone number and email, and it will advise when any of that stuff pops up online. In order to remove such from search engines, sign up with the DeleteMe service of the online privacy company Abine. It will remove listings every few months, for a fee.
ATTACKS WITH FIREARMS AND EXPLOSIVES
To inflict maximum casualties, terrorists may attack “soft targets” that are crowded and have limited security. These can include sports venues, malls, schools, transportation hubs, theater, hotel, concert halls, amusement parks, houses of worship and infrastructure such as bridges. Conceivably, extremists may also pinpoint infrastructure such as dams and gas lines, or seek to poison water supplies.
Get into the habit of identifying exits wherever you are, as well as barriers that you can hide behind in case shooting erupts.
If you see what looks like a pipe or pressure cooker with wires sticking out of it on the ground, do not try to dissemble it yourself. Move far away and call 911. Also be wary of suspicious packages that arrive in the mail. They could contain explosives.
Pipe bombs are a common explosive device made in America. They are easily assembled with everyday components such as PVC pipes, nails, screws, bolts, fireworks, electrical wire and cellphones.
Similarly, pressure cooker bombs, such as those detonated by the Boston Marathon bombers in 2013, can be triggered using an electronic device like a digital watch, garage door opener, cell phone, pager, kitchen timer, or alarm clock.
Letter or package bombs are another homegrown variant. Telltale signs can include no return address, or one that you don’t recognize or is in an area different from the location where it was mailed. Be on alert for incorrect spelling, excessive postage and oily stains or a smell like shoe polish or almonds. The mailer may mark it “confidential” so that only you open it. These packages often have an odd shape or are lopsided. Terrorists in some places will detonate a second bomb when emergency responders arrive in response to the first explosive. Unless you require immediate medical attention, run at least a few blocks away from the bomb site, steering clear of any unattended vehicles and buildings that have been hit. The former might contain explosives and the latter could rain down shattered glass and debris.
If your work regularly requires you to report in a government building (such as the Capitol) ask security about the protocols for where to hide and how to behave if you’re trapped inside where a gunman is roaming the corridors. Also ask for guidelines for what to do in the event of a lockdown. You’re more likely to get answers if the local press club or pool makes the request as a group.
Even if few staff are working in the newsroom due to the pandemic, initiate a discussion on creating a protocol and drills. Typically a lockdown will involve emptying the hallways, covering the windows of the rooms so no one can look in, pushing furniture against the doors, moving everyone away from windows and doors, locking doors, sitting on floors and turning off lights. Those who hide in bathrooms should crouch on the toilet seats with heads down so the shooter can’t spot legs or heads. Do not make noise when hiding. After sending an emergency text, mute your phone’s ring and other sound notifications so as not to draw the shooter’s attention..
If outside, fleeing should be the first plan of action.Make yourself less of a target by staying low, by bending over and running in a zig zag. (This is hard. Practice.)
Taking cover. If you can, run inside or behind something big and solid, like a wall, building or dumpster. Bullets can pass through almost anything but an object will slow down the shooter and obscure their line of fire. Avoid windows, as shattered glass could cut you. If taking cover behind a car, the wheels and engine block can offer protection, to some extent. Stay low, like knee-high, when trying to catch a glimpse from behind your barrier.r
Learn First Aid. First responders may not be able to get to the wounded quickly, so it may fall to you to save lives. The national movement Stop the Bleed offers training and resources to learn how to staunch bleeding with tourniquets, pressure and by packing wounds.
Situations involving terror attacks are outside your control. Take deep breaths and stay focused on a task to survive, such as looking around you or attending to the wounded. Remind yourself that usually active shooter situations don’t last very long.
Even if you don’t encounter an attack, just knowing that you might one day can be unsettling. It’s normal to feel agitated or on edge.
Anticipate that staff and colleagues could be upset, and build newsroom support networks that can help them process emotional distress. Regularly check in with each other, and share information about seeking help from mental health professionals. Remind them of the importance of self care. Healthy eating, exercise and sleep are vital and ensure better journalism.
The Dart Center website has a wealth of self-care resources for editors and journalists who are exposed to traumatic events.