Tag: surveillance

Who’s tracking your phone?

woman holding cell phone as she goes up the escalator
So what’s the danger here? (Read on to find out!)

By now you will have heard how the FBI is using cellphone data to track down people who were at the January 6 storming of the Capitol. Early last year, you may have seen the orange-dots-on-black maps that tracked a group celebrating spring break in Fort Lauderdale as they headed home — potentially carrying COVID. What about you? Have you been in any situations lately where you think someone might have been tracking your phone?

Whether you like or don’t like the idea of being tracked by your cellphone, it is happening!

Not because you are a suspect in a crime. Not because you could be carrying a virus. No, you are being tracked because you are a valuable marketing asset! In fact, years of your location data has probably already been recorded, sold and re-sold multiple times, without you getting a single penny for it!

By now you may also be wondering, “Virginia, what does phone location data have to do with emergency preparedness?” As you’ll see, there are a couple of interesting angles to this story.

Assumptions behind this Advisory

First, we assume you have a smartphone. If you’re like most people, you count on your phone as your main communications tool for emergencies. How your phone is set up could play an important role in its usefulness.

Second, we think everyone interested in preparedness should be knowledgeable about security. We assume this includes phone security.

Before we go any further, here’s a disclaimer. Cellphone technology changes monthly, maybe weekly! Please confirm what you read here today with experts (your phone manufacturer, the app developer, your IT consultant, etc.) before you take any actions!

The vocabulary of phone tracking

And before we jump into what I’ve learned this week, I have to start with some vocabulary. (I had to look up these words myself.)

  • A GPS chip in the phone is what allows it to be tracked. The chip reveals location data: where your phone was and how long it stayed there. (GPS refers to the Global Positioning System, operated and maintained by the U.S. Air Force for “Space-Based Positioning, Navigation, and Timing.”) Satellites, cell towers and Wi-Fi can all be used to pinpoint the location of your phone.
  • Metadata is the basic info about a phone message. It consists of who you are (your device, not your name), who you’re talking to (device), and when you’re talking.
  • Content is what you are actually saying or sending by message. Your content can be encrypted for privacy.
  • Encryption is a process whereby a message is converted into code, making it impossible to read unless you have the key to the code.

Of course, we rely on all this information on ordinary days and during emergencies.

GPS capability helps us chat with friends, make business arrangements and find our way there. It lets us check on what the weather’s going to be like, and figure out where to get gas.

In an emergency our phone uses the same technology. We can check to be sure family is OK, locate the fire or traffic jam, find our way to a shelter. If we’re trapped under a fallen wall, our phone could help direct First Responders to our rescue.

Some of these functions are built into the phone. We can add many other functions using apps – map apps, news apps, social apps, earthquake alerts, gaming, chat, roadside assistance, etc. etc. You will be interested to know that the average person has 40 apps installed on their phone — of the over 2 million available! That average person only uses about 20 of them, however. (As you might imagine, younger adults use more than older adults.) You can get more interesting details of phone app usage here.

So, phones and apps represent a lot of convenience.

The real value though, and the reason people are tracking your phone, is the information that apps capture about your location.

When you use your phone and apps, you are agreeing to be tracked in real time. Companies tell you they are tracking your phone in order to “Give you a better user experience” or “Improve service.” At the same time, many of the apps, and particularly the free ones, collect far more than the essential info they need.

They combine your location data with other users’ data and sell it to organizations that build and then in turn sell detailed user profiles for marketing purposes. Hundreds of companies buy the compiled user profile data. Examples are banks, insurance companies, credit companies, airlines, and retail giants like Nike and Amazon. Oh, and political parties!

Can the government buy this data, too? Typically, law enforcement has to prove why they need the data. But there’s been recent reporting of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) spending thousands of dollars on location data – without being authorized to do so. The ACLU is suing for infringement of privacy.

However the lawsuits work out, you can pretty much assume that some of your personal location information has been collected and passed along to private and perhaps even governmental agencies. And this won’t stop.

What can you do to keep the world from tracking your phone?

Here are simple things we all can do that will make it harder for our location to be traced.

  • Turn off the radios (think Spotify) on your phone, whether they are cellular or wi-fi.
  • Even if your phone is off, though, its location can be found because Wi-Fi and Bluetooth still receive data. The easiest way to stop this is to turn on the “Airplane Mode” feature. 
  • Go to “Settings,” “Privacy” and “Location settings” on your phone, and adjust. Apple also has a setting to “limit ad tracking.” (A lot of the apps you like probably need location settings, so be careful in shutting things off entirely.)
  • Shut the phone down completely and take out the battery. Of course, then you can’t use the phone at all!

If you read any crime novels like I do, at this point you will be asking, “What about using a burner phone? (For the non-crime reader, these are pre-paid cellphones used just a couple of times and then trashed.) If you want to use a burner to avoid being identified, be sure to buy with cash (away from where you usually shop), keep your calls short, and remove the SIM card before you toss the phone. These phones can still be located but even if the phone is located there’s theoretically no link to you as an individual.

What about protecting the messages you do send?

Location is metadata, and can be tracked in a number of ways and by a whole raft of commercial enterprises. What’s in your messages is “content.” Content is a lot harder for people to get to – and pretty easy for you to make more secure.

For security, insist on encrypted messages. I didn’t really realize it, but many of our most popular messaging services automatically encrypt what you send – as long as the person on the other end of the message has the same service (and thus the key to the encryption).

For several years my family and I have been using WhatsApp to send messages and photos. In 2016 WhatsApp announced end-to-end encryption. (WhatsApp had been purchased by Facebook a couple of years earlier.) In 2018, Apple’s iMessage and FaceTime also announced end-to-end encryption.

Sounds good, eh? But it’s important to remember that if these companies store or back up your messages, the messages may be available at a later time. And since  these are for-profit companies, we cannot know exactly how they intend to approach privacy in the future.

My research for this Advisory suggests that if you are concerned about having a good, free and private encryption message service, you should look into the Signal Messaging app. It’s a non-profit company that has always been dedicated to end-to-end encrypted calling and texting.

Caution: In recent months the demand for “privacy” online has led to dramatic growth for Signal, and experts are watching to see how the company will respond to this surge in new users.

So you’ve set up your phone for a better level of privacy. Now what?

What else can you do to your phone to yourself from being tracked, surveilled or hacked? Here’s a last list of suggestions. I hope most of these recommendations are familiar to you!

  1. Set up a password on your phone, the longest one possible. Don’t be like the 70% of people who use the same password for multiple accounts!
  2. Consider using a fingerprint or faceID instead of a passcode. Harder for a thief to get into your phone. On the other hand, easier for police to force you to open it.
  3. Don’t charge your phone in public places like airports or shopping centers. You don’t know if that outlet itself has been compromised and thus might be transmitting your private data while all you think is that you’re charging the phone.
  4. Use the same caution when picking public “hotspots” – like a Starbucks – for connecting to the internet.
  5.  Remember that companies can be subpoenaed to give up your data. You may not even know it has happened.

Finally, keep track of your cellphone!  Over 70 million are lost or stolen each year!

Go onto YouTube and you can see video after video of people’s phones being stolen right out of their hands as they are standing talking on the street. Most of these “grab and run” thieves zip by on a bike or scooter and before you realize it, your phone hand is empty! We wrote about “scooter” thefts last year, when there was a rash of them in San Francisco.

And if you’re still remembering the image at the top of this page, it is meant to represent another situation where phones get stolen. You are going up the escalator, the thief is going down, and BINGO, your phone has disappeared.

I found a couple of inexpensive items that might be useful for forgetful or careless types.

First is a lanyard to keep you from walking away from your phone. This one comes in different colors, even in two-packs so you can change colors to fit your outfit (or share with another family member).

Doormoon Phone Lanyard, 6× Durable Patch, 2× Adjustable Neck Strap, Universal Nylon Phone Straps for Phone case Compatible with iPhone, Samsung Galaxy and All Smartphones (Black Purple)

Or maybe you’d prefer a wrist strap to you can keep the phone handy even when your hands are otherwise full. And a wrist strap would keep that escalator thief from grabbing and getting away!

Wrist Lanyard with id Holder, Doormoon Card Holder Credit Card Wallet with Starp for Smartphones Sleeve Extra Tall Pocket Totally Covers Credit Cards and Cash (Red)

If you’re worried about your phone slipping out of your pocket, or being slipped out by a pick-pocket, consider this. It uses a magnet to “pin” your phone securely in place inside your pocket or purse.

Stocking Stuffers : Cell Phone Accessories: Don’t Lose Your Phone, Wallet, Tablet, or Keys – Patented Anti-Theft, Anti-Drop, Magnetic Cell Phone Lock – Secures Your Mobile Device to Pocket or Purse

One last note about cellphone security.

Your security depends on the person you are sending to having good security, too. I love this oh-so-timely quote: “Think of it as herd immunity. The more people practice good security, the safer everyone else is.”

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

P.S. What other suggestions do you have? Let us know. Dealing with our phones is not going to get any easier.

Drones in Emergency Situations

Drone at dawn

By now you know our mantra here at Emergency Plan Guide: “The more we all know, the safer we all will be.” This attitude is convenient for people like me. I enjoy learning more about aspects of emergency preparedness I don’t expect to become an expert in

Today’s Advisory about the use of drones in emergency situations is an example. While we’ve written about drones before, Joe and I don’t own one. But drones appear ever more frequently in First Responder and emergency preparedness circles. When I got the chance to work with an expert, I grabbed at it.

Today’s Advisory is built around the professional roles that drones are playing today. It’s written by Anthony Jamison, head of the Outreach Department of Drone Services Phoenix. The company provides aerial photography and videography for commercial projects (real estate, construction, etc.. (If you’re interested in learning more about drone services as a career, check out their website! Lots of good info there.)

So here’s what Anthony pulled together. I emphasized a few sentences in bold that I thought were particularly important.

How Drones Are Being Used To Assist In Emergency Situations

Drones or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) have come a long way from their beginnings as a purely military tool. While they remain an indispensable part of countless military operations to this very day, their ever-increasing commercial availability has ushered in a new era of widespread use among everyday people.

Today, UAVs are a potent business tool, with many companies and entrepreneurs leveraging aerial drone photography to further their business goals.

Drones are also proving to be quite handy during emergencies. Let’s take a closer look at how people are using drones for disaster relief and other emergency situations.

Water Rescue

A drone operated by lifeguards saved the lives of two people who were at risk of drowning after getting caught in heavy surf in Australia.

It took only two minutes to complete the rescue. The drone flew half a mile above the struggling swimmers and dropped a flotation device, which helped the swimmers back to shore.

It’s the first time that a drone was used to achieve such a feat. It likely won’t be the last. After all, drones can get much faster to those in trouble in the water than rescuers swimming towards them.

Drones can also be used to scan the surf for sharks and keep beach-goers safe.

Supply Drops

Disasters can render any part of a village, town, or city inaccessible.

With drones, we can now deliver supplies and emergency survival kits to those who need them most without delay. Our increased drone capabilities also mean that we don’t have to risk human lives to make food, water, and medical supply deliveries to victims of a disaster in hard-to-reach spots.


For the longest time, firefighters have been using planes and helicopters to combat wildfires. But flying them through the conditions such conflagrations create can be downright dangerous.

Drones equipped with infrared cameras, however, can fly through thick, black smoke into spots too dangerous for manned aircraft.

Whether they’re carrying buckets and massive tanks filled with water and foam for dumping over large areas or ping-pong ball-sized incendiary devices that deny advancing wildfires of fuel, drones are proving to be quite effective firefighters.

Search and Rescue Operations

Locating people that need rescue and evacuation is a task that drones appear to be built for.

Drones can reach high altitudes, fly into mining shafts, and detect body heat through thermal imaging cameras. They are proving their worth as an indispensable tool for search and rescue operations.

CBRNE Events

Natural disasters are bad enough, but chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, explosive, or CBRNE events are even worse.

Whether the release of hazardous materials was accidental or intentional, like in the case of a terrorist attack, a CBRNE event creates extremely unsafe situations for victims and relief workers alike. However, immediate relief must be provided and the extent of the damage assessed. An aerial drone can help with that and more.

Drones were deployed to inspect the meltdown-hit Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, a direct result of a powerful earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan in 2011. With the help of drones, authorities were able to receive data that allowed them to measure radiation inside the reactor, monitor possible radiation exposure, and repair destroyed areas.

With drones doing the dangerous parts of the job, nuclear fallout exposure for relief workers was kept to a minimum.

COVID-19 Response

The COVID-19 pandemic is the worst crisis to hit humanity since the Second World War.

To date, the coronavirus has claimed the lives of more than two million people worldwide. Its economic impact is also massive, with millions of people losing their livelihood amid business shutdowns and country-wide lockdowns.

The COVID-19 pandemic, however, has given birth to a larger role for drones.

  • With the pandemic in full swing, drones have become instrumental in contactless food and medical supply deliveries.
  • Drones are seeing use as a disinfectant delivery system, spraying large areas to limit the spread of the coronavirus.
  • In the United States, special drones designed to monitor public spaces and ensure compliance with social distancing protocols are already in use. These UAVs can detect temperatures, heart rates, coughing, and even social distancing.

As drone technology evolves over the years, we can expect to see more developments that will make them even more useful in times of crisis.

What about us non-professionals or hobbyists using drones in emergency situations?

I know that some preppers have considered using drones in non-professional – and maybe even illegal – ways. For example, just today I read an article suggesting that drones could serve to intimidate or distract people approaching your location, or to surveille people or situations that might turn into a threat.

I think these are good uses. The “illegal” part is that these drones would likely be flying low over groups of people, or flying out of the sight of the operator, both of which have not been allowed.

An update on drone regulations has just been announced.

In December, 2020, the Federal Aeronautics Association (FAA) finally passed new rules that have been in the works for a couple of years. They give drones new flexibility to fly at night and over humans and traffic as long as the drone is able to broadcast its identification and location. (Apparently community-based and educational groups will still be able to fly non-remote-ID equipped aircraft in specially designated areas.)

I assume that professional pilots know all the details. (I had trouble finding a source for more than what I’ve written above.) If you are interested in flying a drone as a hobby, be sure to check in with the FAA regarding licensing and flying requirements.  

I’ll close this Advisory with a few more words from Anthony:

As drone technology evolves over the years, we can expect to see more developments that will make them even more useful in times of crisis.

While we may still be a long way off from drones capable of evacuating people from disaster areas, the advances that we are going to see will be just as exciting.

All very thought-provoking, isn’t it?!

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

P.S. Our earlier Advisories about drones – what to look for, limitations, what they cost, what equipment they carry, etc. – have been updated. Check them out:

Surveillance Technology


Hidden cameraWe regularly look at what I’ll call “common security devices” – outdoor lights, motion-activated lights, including the very popular Ring doorbell camera.

All these are designed to prevent an unwelcome surprise or potential criminal activity.

Security devices help you keep an eye on what’s going on around your home or place of business.

Let’s stop for a moment and take a look at things from the other side.

What about surveillance devices?

Surveillance devices — sometimes called spy gear or spyware — may be letting others watch you!

If you’re a fan of spy movies or novels, a lot of what follows will sound familiar. The thing is, what used to be fantasy is now everyday reality.

Before we start, keep in mind that some of what we’re about to discuss may have legal restrictions. *

Still, people are using “spy gear” every day, and as someone interested in safety and security, you ought to have a basic awareness of what’s out there and how it works.

Examples of everyday spy gear.

We’ve all seen the movie where the detective goes directly to the phone in the room, takes off the base, and silently points to the recording device installed there.

These days, with communications taking place via cell phone, that sort of technology may be outdated!

1-Track a cell phone.

You surely know about the “Find my phone” capability in your smart phone. You can use the app or sign into iCloud and you’ll see a map showing your phone. (By the same token, if someone knows your login in and password, they can pretend they are you, log in and find your phone — and you — the very same way.)

The GPS technology built into the phone allows someone to track a lot more than just where you (and your phone) are. Stealth programs can locate the phone on a map, trace the route the phone has taken and alert the program owner if the phone has gone outside a preset boundary. More comprehensive programs can track all phone activity including instant messaging and social media activity.

More advanced phone tracking software typically requires a monthly subscription.

2-Secretly record a cell phone call.

If you want to record calls you make on your own phone, it’s usually a question of downloading the right app and learning how to activate it before you call, and then turning it off again when the call is over.

But what about secretly recording calls someone else is making? Again, it’s a question of software. You download a program onto your computer, then get your hands on the other person’s phone long enough to get it set up. Then, when they make a call to a specific number, or at a specific time, the call is recorded. You can download it and listen at your convenience. You may even be able to see pictures that are being sent via instant messaging, etc.

This sort of surveillance ware typically requires a monthly subscription because the data is sent to a hosting account maintained by the product manufacturer. You log in to your account to view what’s been recorded.

There are a lot of options associated with the programs that track cell phone usage. Here’s a site that reviews this sort of spyware:   http://www.top10spysoftware.com/

3-Take a video with a hidden camera.

We’re certainly accostomed to security cameras looking down at us in public places – and they have been instrumental in helping law enforcement catch criminals. (Remember the Boston Marathon bombers on video?)

We’re not so used to videos being taken in private settings, however.

In fact, many ordinary items — like the teddy bear in the photo above! — can house a hidden camera and most people would never suspect them. Just a quick jaunt through Amazon shows these examples.  Prices start at around $20, and some are even cheaper. (See my Personal Disclaimer at the end of this Advisory.) Click on the images or on the links for details and prices.

Note: when choosing a hidden camera you have to decide if the unit is standalone, or whether it can be connected to the wireless Internet network in your home or office. To use a standalone unit, you’ll have to remove the SD storage card and plug it into a computer to view what’s been recorded.  If you can connect to the network, you may be able to watch what’s going on remotely.

A pen that is actually a camera? Standalone unit, perfect for any business setting. Be sure it writes, of course. (This one actually comes with pen refills.)

32GB HD Spy Pen Camera 100 Min Video Recorder, FREE 32GB Memory Card, 5 Extra Ink Refills – Professional Secret Mini Digital Security Pencil With Tiny Undetectable Hidden Covert Cam

Look around the room you are in. See a wall clock? See a desk clock? Either one could have a hidden camera, taking photos of you right now!  The average person would never even notice this one, for example:

OUMEIOU 1080P 16GB Spy Hidden Camera Alarm Clock Infrared Night Vision Simplified Version

One of my favorites for a bedroom is a smoke alarm. Easy to mount! (But don’t put up a second alarm if there’s a real one already installed. Someone would notice that!)  (Click on image for more details.)

And again, for the office, hotel room, whatever . . . a spy camera that is housed in a phone charger or AC adapter. Comes in black or white to match your own device.

The list goes on. There are , . .

  • light bulbs with hidden cameras
  • electrical outlet plates
  • picture frames
  • key fobs
  • a tablet or iphone case
  • a bottle of water
  • (what looks like) a pack of chewing gum!

And still another idea. This fake plant with its camera actually plugs in for “years and years of use!”

And a last idea. Take a picture BACK through a door peephole using this clever reverse peephole spy cam!

4-Listen to a private conversation.

While there were plenty of spy cameras to look at, I didn’t see anywhere near as many audio listening or recording devices. Probably because of legal limitations — see the Legal Disclaimer. However, you can find good quality up-close recording devices built into wrist watches.

Spy cameras with recording devices can also be hidden in pens, similar to the one above, or in flash drives. Or you can buy a tiny recorder, no bigger than a button, and stick it anywhere.

Again, click on any of the images to go to Amazon, where you’ll be able to get an idea of features and costs. Shop around — there are plenty of choices!

5-Track someone’s whereabouts. 

GPS trackers have saved hikers lost in the woods. (We include a review of an excellent GPS radio here.) They also track commercial vehicles and the cars of family members, including pets. An obvious GPS tracker can be put in a pocket, stuck in the car door, or fastened to a pet collar. Hidden GPS trackers are fastened so that they are hidden, of course!

A “simple” tracker is motion activated. It records and saves info about where it went, to what address, how fast it traveled, etc. To get the info, you must retrieve the tracker and plug it into a computer.

An “advanced” tracker can provide real time tracking. It’s powered via battery, or is hardwired to the electrical system, and it sends messages to a cellphone or computer. Advanced trackers can send data in near real time. They require a subscription.

Here’s an “advanced” tracker that reports in every 5 seconds. You can  set up “boundaries” for the item being tracked and be notified via email when the boundaries are crossed. Attach to a vehicle with its magnetic case.

Spy Tec STI_GL300 Mini Portable Real Time GPS Tracker.

6-Track what someone is doing online.

It’s easy to download and install “tracker” software on any computer. It records all activity and, in fact, can record every keystroke. It can send alerts when certain words appear in an email or on a website. And it can block access to certain sites or emails.

If your boss or family member installs this on YOUR computer, they can monitor everything you are doing from their own phone, tablet or computer. The installation is difficult if not impossible to detect. (It’s also legal for your employer to track everything you do with company-owned property, in case you were wondering.  Check your Employee Policies Manual for your own company’s rules.)

Again, this kind of web-based program requires a monthly subscription.  Looking for more information about monitoring software? Again, here’s a review site: http://www.toptenreviews.com/software/privacy/best-monitoring-software/scription.

Counter Surveillance Technology

If you think you might be the target of some of these surveillance gadgets or techniques, you may have to spend some money to find out.

When it comes to computer spyware, you may not be able to detect it yourself. Good anti-virus or anti-spyware may help. Here a link to one of the best: Norton Security Premium – 10 Devices [Download Code]

When it comes to company-owned computers, you may be out of luck. Best solution? Change your behavior so you don’t have to worry.

As for finding listening devices or hidden cameras, “sweeping” a room may require something like this, designed to sweep a room to find hidden listening devices and cameras:  Spy-Hawk Security Products Pro-10G is the 1 GPS Tracker Finder and Law-Grade Counter Surveillance Bug Sweep – Newest Professional Handheld Detection of All Active GPS Trackers, Mobile Phones

Finally, you could try protecting your own cell phone from being tracked by carrying it in a “signal blocking bag.” Inexpensive peace of mind:
SYB Phone Pouch, Cell Phone EMF Protection Holster Sleeve for Phones up to 3.25″ Wide, Black with Belt Hoop

*Now for the Legal Disclaimers

All these items come with a caution to USE LAWFULLY. I am not a lawyer and am not giving any legal advice, but here are the basics that appear at every website or in every product description. Keep them in mind and do more research if you plan to use any of the devices we’ve talked about here.

  • Federal laws are one thing, and state laws another. Be sure you know how your state defines “lawful” when it comes to secretly recording or filming.
  • Generally, taping or filming someone who has an “expectation of privacy” can get you into trouble, and your recordings probably can’t be used as evidence. You may be able to use them to help you make private decisions, of course.
  • Audio recording is more problematic than video recording.
  • If you own the property, or have permission, you can put up a video camera with no audio. (This is the “nanny cam” standard.)
  • When it comes to audio, at least one person must give permission for the recording to be legal. (In some states, both parties must be notified and give permission.)

And my personal disclaimer:

I’m not at all an expert on these devices, and unlike most of the things we write about, I have not owned any spyware. (Joe is more paranoid than I am, and has a lot more experience. He made important additions to this article.) And, of course, technological breakthroughs have a way of changing everything overnight!

Still, what I discovered in researching these devices is:

  • Prices vary widely on nearly all items. (The exception is monitoring software from well-known brands.) Even some of the small items (like a flash drive/camera) can cost anywhere from $15 to $50, so you definitely need to shop carefully. (Generally, I have tried to select mid-range items as my examples.)
  • Some of the inexpensive items seem to be unreliable. You are probably wasting your money on them.
  • Many of these items are available only directly through specialty spyware stores. And not all of them have return policies or guarantees, so again – shop carefully. (That’s why the examples from this article are all from Amazon, where I have had some good experiences in customer service and in returning merchandise that didn’t work as advertised.) Rather than order online, you may want to visit a brick-and-mortar store to talk to a knowledgeable salesperson.

And a few more buyer’s notes:

Many of these devices are powered by batteries. Some are hardwired to electrical sources. Most are either “motion activated” or “heat activated,” which go a long way to extending battery life. What’s being recorded goes onto a SIM card and you avoid having to scroll through hours of dead time.

As with all emergency devices, be sure you understand how they are powered and how often you’ll have to replenish the power source.

And as with all electronic devices, make sure you realize just how much data your spy device can actually store before it runs out of memory and shuts down. As you can imagine, the more memory, and the higher the fidelity of the sound or image, the more you pay.

This Advisory is in no way comprehensive. It is meant to give you an overview of the kinds of spyware readily available today, and that you have probably come into contact with, without even knowing it!

If privacy is a big concern for you — and certainly, it’s becoming more of a concern these days for everybody — you’ll want to find out more about these devices.

Your Emergency Plan Guide Team


Can You Spot a Terrorist Before Something Goes Down?


(First of a three-part series on terrorism.)

Before we jump into this subject we need to clarify what we mean by “terrorism.”  When most people think about terrorism, they’re really envisioning attacks by jihadists or other non-state actors like those who perpetrated the 9/11 attack.  In reality, we need to broaden our definition to include domestic terrorism and terrorist acts perpetrated by individuals or groups that are motivated by political or domestic “causes” . . . and persons who are mentally unstable.

Pre-Incident Indicators

From the standpoint of frequency of events, the domestic terrorism poses a greater threat than that perpetrated by international groups.  With that in mind, let’s explore some of the “signs” – or, Pre-Incident Indicators (PIIs) of a possible, impending act of terrorism at a target location . . .


Possible surveillance?

Serious terrorists – even would-be ones – are most likely to visit the target area in advance, conducting surveillance and even taking photographs to aid them in their planning.  It is often difficult to differentiate between terrorists and tourists since both are interested in the features of the location, but with just a bit more attention, you can notice these traits:

  • Tourists are likely to take photographs at random of the more interesting features.
  • Tourists often take photos with themselves or their friends in front of the interesting features.
  • Terrorists will likely be more systematic, taking multiple or series of photographs of areas of ingress and egress.
  • Terrorists will be making notes about security coverage, monitoring activities, drawing floor maps, drawing diagrams of the location, using a recording device, etc.

Elicitation (attempts to get information)

Everybody has questions and asking questions in unfamiliar surroundings is normal.  Would-be terrorists, on the other hand, will be interested in more than the casual answers.  While their conversation at first appears ordinary, they will attempt to gain  more detailed information to determine security procedures, vulnerabilities, etc.  Elicitation attempts are not always made in person.  They can be made by telephone, mail or email inquiry or research at a library, etc.

Examples of unusal questions might be, “When does the next shift (of security guards) come on?” or “Where are the electrical shut-offs?”  Surely a question like one of these should capture your attention!

Please watch for the next post in this series. Part two will cover the logistics of terrorism and the third part will delve into the tests of security, dry runs, etc.