CAPE ELIZABETH — While the nation’s attention was focused on Orlando, another significant but underreported homeland security event took place in California that highlights America’s most powerful counterterrorism weapon: citizen involvement.

The West Coast incident underscores the vision of Maine Emergency Management Agency officials who are about to update our statewide homeland security strategy with a strong re-emphasis on “See Something, Say Something.”

As the details surrounding the Orlando attack emerge, it becomes clear that there were multiple opportunities for the killer’s family, friends, fellow nightclub patrons and workplace colleagues to recognize increasingly aberrant statements and behavior. Those opportunities were wasted when that information was not passed along to authorities.

Since Sept. 11, 2001, officials at the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI have been urging Americans to notify authorities of suspicious activity so that pre-operation patterns of activity can be detected and attacks prevented – “See Something, Say Something.”

In the California neighborhood, they exercised that policy in classic fashion and may have prevented an Orlando-style horror.

The Santa Monica residents observed someone in their neighborhood early Sunday acting in a manner that raised their suspicions. They phoned police, who searched his car and found three assault rifles, a handgun, high-capacity ammunition magazines taped together to enable rapid re-loading, a knife, a stun gun, a security badge and a 5-gallon bucket of chemicals that could become ingredients in an improvised explosive device. They also found camouflage clothing and a black hood in the car.


The driver told police that he was headed to the gay pride parade in Los Angeles.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the Santa Monica suspect’s Facebook site includes political posts, including one in which he compares Hillary Clinton to Adolf Hitler. In another, he repeats conspiracy theories that the government was behind notorious terrorist attacks, including Sept. 11, 2001. That post shares a video claiming that last year’s terror attack on the Paris offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo was a hoax and attributable to the “New World Order.”

He was arrested and taken into custody, and is being held for trial. It may develop that he is completely innocent of all charges. We don’t know his intentions. That’s up to our judicial system.

Here’s what we know for sure: There were over 100 people dead or wounded in Orlando, and zero in Santa Monica. The resolution of the California event was not triggered by images from a spy satellite or a drone, an FBI undercover team or a massive electronic surveillance program. A citizen made a phone call.

On Tuesday, MEMA will host a gathering of emergency management and homeland security practitioners from across Maine – state, county, cities, federal, private-sector reps – to update our statewide homeland security strategy. Against the background of recent events they will address key issues, survey current capabilities and identify gaps, assess risks to critical infrastructure and set objectives to reduce exposure to threats, both natural and man-made.

It promises to be a timely and significant discussion leading to tangible improvements in our posture. (To MEMA’s credit, these brainstorming sessions were scheduled long before the recent tragedy in Florida.) Since the last iteration of the statewide strategy in 2010, for example, cyber security has risen in importance and domestic terrorism has evolved. Mass casualty incident response, interagency cooperation, and interoperable communications are always issues.

Mainers can take some reassurance from the fact that these professionals are actively engaged in updating their plans and policies, that they are regularly talking to each other across traditional turf boundaries, sharing information and applying lessons learned from the latest events across the globe. Good prevention and response depend upon good preparation.

Importantly, MEMA leadership plans to re-energize every sector’s commitment to increased participation in the practice of “See Something, Say Something” across Maine. That will be a good thing.

We all should become involved citizens in this common-sense practice to honor past victims and help prevent future ones.

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