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 What I can do

Report suspicious behaviour

The public plays a major role in providing information to law enforcement and intelligence agencies charged with protecting the community. Even if you think it’s probably nothing, the smallest piece of information can be valuable. Calls to the National Security Hotline have already contributed to investigations. If something doesn’t add up, speak up by calling the 24-hour Hotline on 1800 123 400 and help keep Australia safe from terrorism.

Some things to look out for

The nature of terrorism is changing. Callers now provide information on the use of websites or social media promoting violent extremist ideology, suspicious travel planning, or someone they know who is becoming radicalised towards violent extremism.

Unusual filming or photography of official buildings or other critical infrastructure

Filming and photographing a target is one of the ways terrorists gather information. In 2001, a major terrorist plot in Singapore was averted when the filming of target buildings, including the Australian High Commission, were discovered by authorities.

Suspicious vehicles near significant buildings or in busy public places

Terrorists use vehicles for many different purposes, from surveillance to planting bombs, as in Bali in 2002. Vehicles may be parked for an unusually long time, sometimes in no-parking areas. Explosives can be heavy, so cars and vans may sit abnormally low on their suspension. They may be out of registration, or have false or missing number plates. Overseas, a terrorist attack was foiled after police became suspicious of a car with front and rear number plates that didn’t match.

Suspicious accommodation needs

The way terrorists use, rent and buy accommodation is often suspicious. In the UK, a rented garage was turned into a bomb factory. A member of the public reported strange comings and goings of men wearing gloves, which led to the arrest of terrorists who had already attacked Heathrow Airport three times.

Unusual purchases of large quantities of fertiliser, chemicals or explosives

Fertiliser is a widely available product that has been used in many terrorist bombs. In 1995 a bomb in Oklahoma City killed 168 people. One of the people involved was arrested following the discovery of a receipt for nearly a tonne of fertiliser that was used to make the bomb.

A lifestyle that doesn't add up

While planning an attack, terrorists may lead lives that appear unusual or suspicious. Before the 11 September 2001 attacks, terrorists in the US undertook flight training but weren’t interested in learning how to take off or land. The leader of that group also paid cash for many large purchases such as the flight training, accommodation, vehicles and air tickets.

False or multiple identities

Terrorists frequently use stolen or fake documents, including passports and driver's licences. They can also have several identities and may give conflicting details to those they come into contact with. Overseas, alert bank employees noticed a series of unusual transactions and identified an account that had been opened in a false name. They reported it to authorities, who uncovered links to a terrorist group.

Unattended bags

If you see an unattended package or bag in a public place, with no apparent reason for it being there, here’s what to do:

  1. ask if anyone owns it
  2. if no one does, don’t touch it
  3. alert others to keep away.

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Know what to do in an emergency

Be prepared

Preparing for terrorism should be approached like any emergency such as fire or flooding. This is known as the 'all hazards' approach. A few basic, common sense measures are outlined below, which you may wish to put in place.

Develop an emergency plan

Decide who in your household will do what in an emergency and make sure everyone knows his or her role. For example, who will check on elderly neighbours or pick up children from school?

Ask someone to be your key contact

Choose an out-of-town friend or relative who is prepared to be a point of contact if the members of your household are separated in an emergency. Make sure everyone (including your key contact) has a full list of your contact details.

Agree on a meeting place

Decide where your group will meet in the event of an incident that makes it impossible for you to go home.

Know your home

In some emergencies you may need to turn off your electricity, water or gas. Make a note of where the main switches and valves are located.

Find out about your local emergency services

Record the numbers of your local police, fire, ambulance and council, and your State Emergency Service, together with gas and electricity suppliers.

Assemble an emergency kit

Prepare an emergency kit and keep it where you can find it easily. It should include a torch, a battery-operated radio, a first aid kit including disposable latex gloves, and copies of your important personal documents.

During an emergency

Following is some general emergency advice and information on what to do in specific situations.

General advice

  • Try to remain calm and reassure others.
  • Check for injuries. Attend to your own injuries first so you are then able to help others.
  • Ensure your family and neighbours are safe—especially children, the elderly or those who are living alone.
  • Watch your television or listen to your radio for information.
  • Follow the advice of the emergency services. If it is dark, check for damage using a torch. Do not light a match—there could be gas in the air.
  • If you smell gas, turn off the main gas valve if it is safe to do so, and quickly move everyone outside.
  • Call to let someone know you are safe but minimise other calls unless the situation is life-threatening, to avoid overloading phone lines.
  • Use a landline to call essential contacts if mobile networks are down.
  • Make sure pets are safe and have food and water.

If a bomb explodes

  • Protect yourself from falling debris.
  • Get away to an open space or protected area as quickly and calmly as possible.
  • Stay away from tall buildings, glass windows and parked vehicles.
  • Follow the instructions of the emergency services.
  • If you have any information that may help apprehend suspects or identify a vehicle involved, contact the police or the National Security Hotline at once.

For more information on what to do if a bomb explodes see Improvised explosive device (IED) attack – advice for individuals from the Improvised Explosive Device Guidelines for Places of Mass Gathering.

If you receive a suspicious package

  • Do not open it.
  • Leave it alone and immediately clear the area.
  • Call 000 and ask for the police. Wait in a safe place until emergency services arrive, and follow their instructions.

If you are caught in a fire

  • Stay low to the floor, as smoke and heat rises.
  • Use the emergency exit to get out of the building as quickly and safely as possible—do not use the lift.
  • Check doors before opening them—if they feel hot there may be fire on the other side.

A chemical, biological or radiological incident

  • In a chemical, biological or radiological incident, the most important things to remember are to minimise your exposure, then watch your television or listen to your radio and wait for emergency services to tell you what to do.
  • It is not possible to give specific instructions for all chemical, biological or radiological incidents as what to do will depend on what agent has been released.
  • If there is a public alert about an incident, authorities may tell you to stay inside, close all doors and windows and turn off air conditioners. Alternatively, you may be told to evacuate the area. Follow the advice of emergency services.
  • Current advice from official intelligence services is that the likelihood of a chemical, biological or radiological terrorist attack in Australia is low.
  • Health authorities and emergency services have detailed plans in place to deal with a situation and treat those affected.
  • Stockpiles of antibiotics, vaccines, anti-viral drugs and chemical antidotes are in place.

For more information on what to do in an emergency see Improvised explosive device (IED) attack – advice for individuals from the Improvised Explosive Device Guidelines for Places of Mass Gathering and Firearm attack – initial action advice for individuals from the Active Shooter Guidelines for Place of Mass Gathering.

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