VAIL — Let’s start here: Right now, state and local law enforcement say there are no known threats of terrorism aimed at the USA Pro Cycling Challenge or the 2015 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t keep our eyes open.
Part of the security planning leading up to the ski championships includes a lot of terrorism-prevention and detection training. That goes beyond training police and security officers. Virtually everyone who works or volunteers at the championships will go through at least some training provided by a Denver-based nonprofit group called the Counterterrorism Education Learning Lab. That group has worked with projects including the X Games and the Major League Baseball All Star Game, and it has developed a program for big events at mountain resorts, too.
SECURING THE SLOPES
Since cops and security guards can’t be everywhere, the public has a big role to play. To help educate the public, a Securing the Slopes training session has been developed. A recent session in Vail included representatives from the Counterterrorism Education Learning Lab, as well as a pair of Vail police officers. More than two dozen people attended the session at the Vail Public Library.
Joanne Terry and Matt Barth, bus drivers for the Eagle County school district, were at the recent session. Both said they came to learn more about how to help. They also served as a kind of advance crew for the district, since 35 school bus drivers will take the Securing the Slopes training.
“We’re going to take a lot of kids to these events,” Terry said. “We can be in the buses, watching.”
And watching is the main focus of the training. The Vail Police Department has put up a number of posters reading “See something, say something” at bus stops around town. There’s even a “See something, say something” app.
A VIGILANT PUBLIC IS KEY
Gary Clyman, a trainer for the Counterterrorism Education Learning Lab, said alert members of the public have stopped a number of potential attacks before they happened. Clyman mentioned a case from Minnesota in which the neighbor of a storage complex noticed a young man behaving in an unusual way, primarily by sneaking into the units.
The neighbor called police, who discovered a cache of firearms, ammunition and bomb-making material, which the teen intended to use in a school shooting.
“You know what’s normal, so you know what’s abnormal,” Vail Police Officer Katherine Williams told the group.
That goes from people skulking in and around buildings to people leaving things like backpacks in obvious places.
On the other hand, when everyone is carrying a backpack — like at the USA Pro Challenge bike races — it’s can be hard to tell when someone just left a pack to travel lightly or for more nefarious purposes.
Vail Police Officer Mike Bindle said a lot of reporting suspicious behavior comes down to instinct.
“If something doesn’t feel right, tell us about it,” he said.
The class also covered who may be terrorists and how they generally operate. There are religious extremists, of course — which the trainers touched on lightly without really naming names — but Clyman said terrorism isn’t limited to just those pursuing religious aims. The Earth Liberation Front members who torched the Two Elk restaurant on Vail Mountain in 1998 held a primarily secular world view. And religion generally isn’t as important as personal freedom to those who believe themselves to be “sovereign citizens” — people who believe themselves exempt from local, state and federal laws.
While keeping an eye out for people acting suspiciously is important, Clyman and the Vail officers all said not all such activity is illegal.
They gave the class a few scenarios and a choice of acting or not. Those in the class all agreed that things like a flag-burning protest or someone praying in a foreign language on the Beaver Creek plaza are both protected forms of expression.
On the other hand, Bindle said, while a protest, prayer or someone handing out leaflets are all legal activity, sometimes it’s a cover for something else.
“Just call — we’ll figure it out,” he said.
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930, firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @scottnmiller.