Insider Exclusive: Trust Your Gut—Know the Ways to Spot Suspicious Behavior

Insider Exclusive: Trust Your Gut—Know the Ways to Spot Suspicious Behavior

A TSA inspector gives operators security highlights

By George Spencer

Our job is to help. That was the message TSA Inspector Darryell Williams had for motorcoach operators at the annual meeting of the North Carolina, Virginia, and South Carolina motorcoach associations in Roanoke, Va. this past Sept. 16–20. 

“Everything TSA [offers] is free and [meant] to keep you and your passengers safe—and to hopefully help you lower your insurance costs,” he said.

Williams encouraged all operators to contact the TSA for a free security analysis of their facilities and operations. “We’ll look at your fencing, CCTV coverage, alarm systems, and point you toward grants,” said Williams. The inspection also covers an operator’s policies and procedures. The on-site visit takes two to four hours, and participating operators receive a written report.

Williams also gave operators highlights of security “musts”:

  • Get a broader sense of “normal” at your place of business. Be aware so you don’t always have to rely on law enforcement. “You know what’s normal,” he said. “You know what belongs. Walk around your facility.”
  • Encourage all employees to be aware. “Get the conversation started,” he said. “Create an environment that preaches security.”
  • Develop a challenge procedure at your facility. This can include ID badges, escorting visitors on grounds, and learning how to challenge unknown persons. 
    “If you make yourself a hard target, [bad guys will] leave you alone and go to the next person,” said Williams.
  • Learn what really makes a person suspicious. “The way a person is dressed is not an indication that they are suspicious,” he said. It’s not race, gender, or other such demographic characteristics that make anyone suspicious. 
    “Look for their behaviors—asking odd questions about operations, security, or personnel; exhibiting unusual anxiety; acting as though they are being watched; being extra focused; ignoring everything around them; and having a glassy stare.”
    For example, a terror suspect doing surveillance will want to see if you’re locking your cargo compartments. “They’d like to put a bomb on your bus,” said Williams. “That’s what they do in Europe. It’s only a matter of time before our homegrown violent extremists move to other targets.”
  • Develop a sixth sense. “Listen to your body and take appropriate steps to keep yourself safe,” said Williams.
  • Be alert for hidden or suspicious items. Be watchful for items in places where they should not normally be. Be alert for obviously suspicious things such as leaking packages, exposed wires, odd odors, and overly heavy items.
    If you think an item is suspicious, do not touch it, said Williams. Instead, clear the area, take notes about its appearance, maintain control over the item, and, of course, report it.
  • Learn the body language tip-offs of someone getting ready to do something violent: scanning an area; agitation and fidgeting; rocking back and forth; hand and jaw clenching; bulging veins; erratic or increased breathing; targeted glance (fixating on the part of the body where they will strike); and taking a fighting stance.
    "The key piece is to trust your instincts,” said Williams. “The more time you spend on honing your awareness, the quicker you will be able to remove yourself from a potentially dangerous situation.”
  • Know the eight signs of terrorist planning activity. These include surveillance photography or monitoring; eliciting information; testing security; suspicious transactions or fundraising; planning and acquiring supplies; suspicious behavior; dress rehearsals; and deploying assets and people.

If your gut tells you to report something, it’s important to know what sort of information law enforcement needs. Report what you know—the facts and essential details of who, what, where, and when. Most importantly, be sure to tell law enforcement the “why”—why your sixth sense is alarmed.

“When you feel something is not right, pick up the phone and say something,” said Williams.

To reach TSA’s national hotline, call (866) 615-5150. It will put you in direct contact with TSA’s Transportation Security Operations Center (TSOC), which is also known as the Freedom Center.

George Spencer is a Chapel Hill, N.C.-based freelance writer and frequent contributor to ABA media.

About the American Bus Association

The American Bus Association (ABA) is the trade organization of the intercity bus industry, with more than 1,000 motorcoach and tour company members in the United States and Canada. Its members operate charter, tour, regular route, airport express, special operations and contract services. Another 2,800 members are travel and tourism organizations and suppliers of bus products and services who work in partnership with the North American motorcoach industry.


Melanie Hinton, Vice President, Communications & Marketing, ABA
Office: (202) 218-7220
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