Lessons from the Times Square Car Bomb

New York City residents are familiar with the slogan “if you see something, say something” and the recent car bomb attempt in Times Square has proven this to be life-saving advice. Here are a few more tips on how individual citizens can help keep NYC (or any city) safe.

One lesson to come out of the Times Square car bomb story is that the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s slogan – if you see something, say something – is an effective, life-saving, crime prevention tool.

As it has been widely reported, two small business people – clothing, flag and handbag street vendors and Vietnam veterans Lance Orton and Duane Jackson – played a heroic role in averting a great loss of life and extensive property damage in the Times Square area on Saturday night.

The two vendors alerted a mounted police officer, Wayne Rhatigan, to a parked Nissan Pathfinder SUV that contained a gasoline and propane-fueled IED (improvised explosive device).

Rhatigan, sitting on his partner, Miggs the horse, rode a lap around the Nissan and saw the car’s ignition running, the hazard lights on and the SUV was parked haphazardly. Rhatigan, a 19-year police veteran knew something was not right with this SUV.

“It was emitting smoke from the quarter panels and reeked of gunpowder,” Rhatigan told reporters.

The street vendors and Officer Rhatigan heard the “pop pop pop” of the firecrackers, which was used to ignite the device. Rhatigan and his partner Officer Pam Duffy alerted the bomb squad and the fire department and they quickly evacuated the area.

The police discovered that the makeshift IED consisting of two propane tanks, two 50-gallon jugs of gasoline, a clock, electrical components, a canister of gun powder and fertilizer. IEDs like this are easy to put together and difficult to detect.

I’m a frequent visitor to New York City and I know the Times Square area well. Times Square is nicknamed “the Crossroads of the World,” and the iconic area is a New York City and world landmark.

The Times Square area, with streets crowed day and night with tourists, shoppers, diners, and theater-goers, was and is an ideal target for terrorists who simply want to cause death and destruction for their twisted cause.

Many pedestrians could have been killed and many businesses damaged had the IED gone off. Thanks to the diligence of the small business people and police officers, the public was evacuated and the bomb defused.

The New York Police Department (NYPD) has 34, 500 uniformed officers, yet they often require the assistance from the public. Small business people are uniquely qualified to be aware of suspicious happenings, as they are often at their place of business, be it an office, a storefront or a street cart. They know their area and they generally keep an eye out for trouble.

“As a street vendor for 21 years, I’m mindful of my surroundings,” Johnson told reporters. “We’re the eyes and ears out here for the police.”

NYPD is making good use of its public and private cameras in the ongoing investigation. Early reports state that the police have identified a possible suspect on camera. As I’ve noted in this column before, business people should install cameras as a crime prevention tool, and should a crime occur, the cameras serve as a crime-solving aid.

I recall interviewing a homicide detective who told me the first thing detectives do when they come upon a crime scene is look for cameras.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority calls for the vigilance of New Yorkers and visitors to help keep New York City (NYC) safe.

To Keep NYC safe:

  • Be alert to unattended packages.
  • Be wary of suspicious behavior.
  • Take notice of people in bulky or inappropriate clothing.
  • Report anyone tampering with surveillance cameras or entering unauthorized areas.
  • Learn the basics of train (and facility) evacuation.
  • And remember, if you see something, say something.
  • Alert a police officer.

As New York Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly told reporters, “It could have been a significant fireball.”

Orton, one of the two vendors called a hero by the press and public, said simply, “If you see something, say something.”

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