AVALON – In September 2016, Cape May County law enforcement was placed on high alert following a pipe bomb detonation in Ocean County.
Intelligence estimates were that the explosion was a prelude to a bigger attack elsewhere, possibly the state firefighters’ convention in Wildwood.
It turned out the intelligence estimate was right about a follow-up incident. Later that day, a bomb went off in New York City.
This story was one of many told Aug. 2 at a Homeland Security initiative here.
State and county officials stressed the need to increase awareness of various terrorist-inspired threats to Cape May County.
The New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness joined with the Cape May County Chamber of Commerce, the County Prosecutor’s Office and the county Office of Emergency Management to increase awareness among law enforcement, business owners, and the general public: be alert, be aware and be prepared.
If there was one purpose to the meeting it was to dispel complacency about the potential threats of terrorist activity here. “There is an attitude out there that it cannot happen here in Cape May County,” said County Prosecutor Robert Taylor.
“When we think of terror threats, we naturally let our minds turn to pictures of New York City or Washington. Residents of Flint, Mich. probably harbored similar thoughts before a terrorist traveled from Montreal, Canada to the Flint airport attacking a police officer as retaliation for U.S. policy in Syria and the Middle East.
One theme that was often repeated was that the world is different. “Everybody’s life has changed since 9/11,” said County Emergency Management Director Martin Pagliughi.
The Avalon Community Hall as a venue has often been used for natural disaster preparedness sessions. The table at the entrance to the large hall was filled with material that discussed infrastructure protection, vehicle-ramming attacks and suspicious activity reporting.
Attendees were reminded that one of the 9/11 hijackers initially explored the possibility of gaining flight training at Cape May Airport.
Taylor recounted the 2007 incident at Fort Dix saying that two of the six individuals involved in that plot allegedly considered targeting the Coast Guard Base in Cape May.
There is plenty in this county to attract a terrorist looking to disrupt American life and instill fear in the public. In the summer, the crowds that descend on the county represent potential “soft targets” for a terrorist using a truck or van in an attack similar to the one that occurred in Nice, France.
Taylor spoke of vigilance concerning potential targets like the convention center and boardwalks.
“We are not here to discourage big events,” Pagliughi said. The message was not to curtail activities, but to be smart about security.
Maj. Frederick Fife, commanding officer of New Jersey’s Regional Operations and Intelligence Center (ROIC) asked the public to report suspicious activity to the first line of response, local police.
“If you see something, say something,” he said. He added that such alertness is not about what someone’s skin color is or what their religious beliefs may be, “It’s about what they are doing.”
Pagliughi also pointed to the increasing need for communication across all layers of responders.
“Police, firefighters, EMS (emergency medical service), county and local officials all need to know what is happening,” when there is an alert or an incident, he added.
Pagliughi spoke of many improvements in the county’s emergency communications infrastructure.
The gathering in Avalon was a reminder that the threats to the county do not always come from Mother Nature. It was also proof that law enforcement and emergency personnel from across the county take those threats seriously, preparing and training for what they hope will not happen.
To contact Vince Conti, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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