Media Center

Guest Column Remaining Vigilant: How You Can Help First Responders Ensure Public Safety

Wednesday, April 24, 2013
Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen

The anguish of the explosions that rocked the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon® continues to echo across the country. Even as we learn more about the suspects and the investigation, we hunger for more answers as to how such a vicious and senseless criminal act targeting the innocent could be committed, and how could it be prevented, if at all.


The crowds lining the streets of Boston to cheer family, friends, co-workers and loved ones reminded me of when I competed in a triathlon in Madison. It is difficult for me to imagine what those athletes and spectators in Boston experienced – a bright flash of light and the ringing in one’s ears after the explosion, or the intense pressure and heat from the shockwave. My thoughts and prayers go out to those who lost loved ones during the attack, and to the survivors and their families, as well as to the first responders who ran toward the devastation with little concern for their own safety.


Public safety is the top priority at the Wisconsin Department of Justice (DOJ). We continue to build cutting-edge capabilities and develop strong partnerships to fight crime and keep Wisconsin citizens safe. Intelligence “fusion centers” operating at the state and local level serve as critical infrastructure in today’s homeland security mission. The Wisconsin Statewide Information Center (WSIC), under the umbrella of the DOJ’s Division of Criminal Investigation, is a state fusion center and, as such, a focal point for information sharing and intelligence analysis. The WSIC manages a number of key programs to further its homeland security and public safety objectives. For example, the Nationwide Suspicious Activity Reporting Initiative, or NSI, encourages law enforcement and other public safety partners to report suspicious behaviors. For the general public, Wisconsin’s adaptation of the nationwide “If you See Something, Say Something™” campaign is Wisconsin Watch or “WiWATCH.” These two programs reinforce the importance of reporting suspicious activity or behavior to law enforcement.


Emergencies and immediate threats, such as a backpack deliberately placed in a crowded area, should always be reported to 9-1-1. For non-emergency threats,, a public web portal, and 1-877-WI-WATCH (949-2824) directly connect citizens with Wisconsin’s intelligence fusion centers, the WSIC in Madison and the Southeastern Wisconsin Threat Analysis Center (STAC) in Milwaukee. Both fusion centers coordinate with the federal government, through the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), to ensure that suspicious activities reported to law enforcement are rapidly received, analyzed and shared with the appropriate authorities. Bottom line -- if you see something suspicious, say something. It is that simple. You can always contact your local police department or sheriff’s office. They will take your information and report it to the fusion centers.


In addition, the Wisconsin Crime Alert Network, or WCAN, is a new crime fighting tool serving Wisconsin law enforcement by providing a mechanism for law enforcement to broadcast “alerts” or other messages to fellow law enforcement, businesses or citizen subscribers. After the bombings in Boston, in collaboration with the FBI and other state fusion centers, the Wisconsin DOJ issued a WCAN alert containing a WSIC bulletin with suspect information. You can view the WSIC bulletin here. During breaking news events – when social media and other sources may disseminate misinformation – the WCAN serves as a source of information directly from law enforcement. WCAN has been instrumental in helping solve a number of crimes and keeping the public safe. For only $12 per year, you can have access to valuable public safety information including crime alerts in your hometown, Amber Alerts, missing persons alerts or other information to keep you and your family safe.


As we all reflect on the events in Boston, please take a minute to consider how you might be proactive in keeping your neighborhood, city, county or region safe – whether it involves staying informed of your surroundings, having an “emergency plan” for your family, reporting suspicious activity to local law enforcement or Wisconsin fusion centers, becoming more familiar with homeland security and public safety resources in the state, or subscribing to an “alert” system like the Wisconsin Crime Alert Network. Our ability to remain resilient hinges on our strong desire to protect ourselves and those around us.