Expert: Beware of local terror attacks

Published Mar. 16, 2003|Updated Aug. 31, 2005

Snicker if you want, but Sal Lifrieri had an attentive audience Thursday for his talk about duct tape and plastic, dirty bombs and biological attacks.

With war looming and warnings of terrorist acts in its wake, the men and women who gathered at the St. Petersburg Woman's Club were more than a little impressed with his credentials, which include serving as former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani's director of security and intelligence operations.

His aim, Lifrieri told his audience Thursday evening, is to separate fact from fiction and give Americans sensible information that they could use to enhance their safety and cope with terrorist attacks. It was that type of information that brought out Jan Frazer-Smith and a couple of her neighbors from Isla del Sol.

"In terms of preparedness for our community at Isla Del Sol, we have a very high ratio of older people in their 70s and 80s," she said. "So we have people who might not be able to evacuate as quickly as some of the other people, neighborhoods in the city.

"So that is a big concern and people who might have some type of physical infirmity, that means they don't move so quickly. That's one of our major concerns."

In an interview earlier that day, Lifrieri said he believes that war against Iraq and the capture of Osama bin Laden could result in attacks on American soil by sympathizers who "feel the need to go help" by creating "small localized attacks."

"I think that's a very real possibility and something we've got to be aware of," he said.

Is St. Petersburg vulnerable?

While the city might not have the symbolic targets of New York or Chicago or other large cities, there is the risk of attack from those who "want to do something in an effort to lend moral support" to terrorist groups, he said.

Executive vice president of Diversified Security Solutions, a consulting firm, Lifrieri is a firm advocate of common sense.

"Unfortunately, we have a tendency of losing perspective when we talk about terrorism," he said.

People tend to talk in terms of apocalyptic events, in which an entire city might be annihilated, he said.

"And in reality, that's not what we're facing. What we are facing is more of the localized, strategic attacks that are taking place in Israel," he said.

Attacks could occur at transportation hubs, large public venues and to critical infrastructure, he said.

"Those are the types of attacks we feel in the intelligence community will become prevalent, but you need to approach the planning with some common sense," Lifrieri said.

He offered several tips for the average person.

"I think the very first thing people should do is become aware of their surroundings," he said.

By that, said Lifrieri, he means not just what's happening as a person walks down the street, but events throughout the United States and the world. Instead of giving cursory attention to a bombing in Israel, he said, Americans should start thinking how they would react if something like that happened in this country.

"It is important that you have a plan so that you know how you react in the event of certain situations taking place. By having a plan, it's going to avoid panic," he said.

At the very least, residents should prepare for a terrorist attack the same way they prepare for a hurricane. Top off the fuel tank, stock up on food, water, medicines and batteries, he said.

Lifrieri also spoke about his reaction to the Sept. 11 attacks.

"I think those of us that were working in the intelligence community, in law enforcement, anticipated something was going to happen. However, we never expected the magnitude that occurred and additionally, there was a tremendous amount of sorrow in that I lost a lot of good, close friends," said Lifrieri, who was no longer working for the city of New York.

Though he said Giuliani's response of going to the scene of the tragedy was a natural one, he cautioned other officials against that.

"I think at the local leadership level we need to seriously evaluate what the responses are going to be. It may not be a good idea to have your leadership go to the scene. We need to take a look at what kind of protection we're going to afford our civic leaders," he said.

Besides working for Diversified Security Solutions, which has its headquarters in Fullerton, Calif., Lifrieri also is a board member of the National Conference of Homeland Security. The nonprofit organization provides training and preparation for terrorist attacks. Phillip J. Keyes, its executive director, who is based in Tampa, was present Thursday with a couple of the organization's books, Personal Safety and The Al Qaeda Network.

Some Americans have become apathetic, Lifrieri said.

"I think a lot of people around the country are getting the feeling that 9/11 is a faded memory," he said.

"I think it's a matter of time before we start losing our guard and I think that's a major mistake."