Alertness can help prevent trouble

Published 10:57 am Friday, January 26, 2018

Being alert to suspicious activity or people in one’s surroundings is a way toward keeping safe. That was the essence of Austin C. White’s message to the 80 people who attended his seminar on Saturday morning in Franklin Baptist Church.

White is a Special Agent with the Virginia State Police’s Criminal Intelligence Division. He was invited to offer advice on how churches can take steps to keep their congregations safe.

According to the pastor, the Rev. Dr. Charles Qualls, the program came from conversations between the church’s administrative council and security committee. Their talking was initiated by the massacre of over two dozen people at a Baptist church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, on Nov. 5.

“It’s an absolute shame that we have to do this at all,” White said. “We should be able to put aside issues outside church. There is evil in the world. We know that. It’s just a matter of time for evil to make itself felt.”

Suspicious Activity Recognition, or SAR, was a term he used during the program, and began by asking how the word suspicious can be defined. Some examples in this case: Seeing someone at church not dressed according to the weather or even custom of the location; not being familiar with either the layout of an area or basic religious procedures; or even obvious nervousness.

But, he stressed, “Something which is suspicious or noticeably unusual doesn’t mean something bad will happen. There may be an explanation for what a person sees.”

In contrast, criminal action such as breaking into cars or trespassing is something that the law can take immediate action on. Further, life-threatening activity demands an immediate response by all concerned. Such activity can include a CBRNE device — chemical, biological, radioactive, nuclear or explosive.

White then referred to the Observe, Orient, Decide, Act Loop. This features situational awareness such as detecting changes; focusing on hazards and discrepancies; making a positive determination about a specific effect; and choosing an option, such as physically acting to achieve the desired result.

“Everyone is managing their own OODA Loop,” he said. “This includes the bad guy.”

Response options, added White, could include not only further observation, but also engaging a person in conversation, recording audio and video, notifying a site manager, calling law enforcement, evacuating or even fighting back.

“Be vigilant,” he said. “Be an excellent observer and have a plan to shorten that loop, and have other witnesses.”

White advocated using the See Something, Say Something smartphone application or app as a way to report suspicious activity. Go to to download it. People may also call 877-482-8477 or email at the aforementioned website.

He noted the seven signs related to SAR and terrorism: surveying, soliciting, testing security, acquiring supplies, people acting suspiciously, testing or dry runs and deploying assets. These were all identified in the case of the Oklahoma City bombing on April 19, 1995.

“It’s so important that you all recognize these signs,” said White. “Be a first preventer.”

He added, “Don’t let this [information] disappear when you leave this afternoon.”

To contact White about speaking to your church, business or civic group, call 804-674-2237.