vig•i•lant /ˈvijələnt/ – Adjective: Keeping careful watch for possible danger or difficulties.
Since the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 we have repeatedly heard officials say “be vigilant” or “stay vigilant”. And now, due to recent incidents, those warnings are being repeated – for good reason since there are radical extremists out there who want to destroy the Western way of life.
But how many of us really know what “being vigilant” means?
The above definition comes from Dictionary.com … and my dictionary defines it as “watchful, alert, observant, guarded, attentive, awake, cautious, careful, wary, on the alert, on the lookout” … among other things.
So now the question is … how many of us actually are vigilant in our day to day lives?
Here’s a test for you. Next time you’re walking around out in public take a few minutes and pay attention to what you do.
Are you one of those people who go around with a phone (or bone) against your head chatting away constantly … or do you stuff buds in your ears to drown out traffic and people noise with tunes? Or maybe you daydream a lot … or worry about upcoming business meetings or how you’re going to juggle all the errands and get your kids to ball practice on time.
All of these are typical, normal thoughts and it’s true – a majority of people don’t pay attention to their surroundings. And that’s a strong testament to how great our country is since we don’t live in fear.
Plus Americans are very fortunate since we have a strong, talented network of First Responders who rapidly respond to threats and incidents.
But keep in mind the U.S. has approximately 800,000 active Law Enforcement Officials (includes Police & Sheriff), 1.1 million Firefighters (over 70% are volunteers) and 210,000 EMT / paramedics.
That means there are about 2.1 million First Responders supporting over 310 million people..!
And there are millions of active military personnel, Federal agents and observant citizens you could add to the mix … but the numbers of eyes and ears could increase exponentially if more people would pay attention.
So … what can you do to become more vigilant..?
- Stay calm – Terrorist attacks are a very low risk possibility so there is no need to worry or panic. Let’s put a few risks in perspective … the chances of having high blood pressure is 1 in 4 … the odds of dying from cancer is 1 in 500 … and the odds of dying from anthrax is 1 in 56 million.
- Be aware & watch – Sounds simple and it is. Stay current on news, alerts and threats – but don’t obsess over them – then start making a habit of being aware of your surroundings. You don’t have to be paranoid or obvious – just make a mental note of the EXITS when you go to places and watch for things that look strange or out of place especially if you walk or drive the same route day after day.
- If you see something, say something – Many people snicker about this phrase and program, but it’s a good suggestion. I’m not implying everyone become a snitch and spy on your neighbors, but as you go about your day, watch for suspicious activities (like someone wearing a heavy coat on a hot day or unattended bags, briefcases or backpacks in odd places) … and report anything that seems out of the ordinary. It may be completely harmless … but it might not. Many crimes and plots have been thwarted by citizens who saw something weird and reported it to officials.
- Know the targets – Terrorists prefer areas that are easy to access by the public like airports, train or bus stations, military and government buildings, major events, schools, malls, etc. Some other high risk targets include water and food supplies, nuclear power plants, and high-profile landmarks. When you are at these types of facilities, try to pay more attention to activities going on around you.
- Get involved – Talk to your local Fire, Police, Health, Sheriff and Emergency Management offices and ask if they have volunteer programs available for citizens and businesses. Some agencies even have safety classes and programs for children too.
Again, people need to remain calm about the threat of terrorist attacks since they are a low risk possibility. Officials are working hard to protect communities, but there are only so many of them on the streets. If the general population would become more vigilant, it could increase the number of eyes and ears on the lookout and make our neighborhoods and country stronger.