Natural disasters are just one focus of the OEMHS's educational programs. The threat of a terrorist attack, Perez knows, is real and counterterrorism efforts are important. One of the challenges facing OEMHS is the fact that Miami's remarkable diversity is contained in a surprisingly compact land-and-water mass of approximately 35 square miles of land and 20 square miles of water — and that its diversity includes not only people of varying ethnic heritage but a variety of potential infrastructure vulnerabilities. Perez is quick to point out that Miami serves the largest cruise industry volume in the country, for example, and that the city is home to one of the largest seaports in the nation, the second largest international banking district, the largest concentration of South American/Caribbean consulate offices, and one of the nation's 10 busiest airports. In addition, a nuclear reactor is situated just south of the city. Miami's skyline is dotted with some of the largest residential and mixed-use buildings on the East Coast, and construction is ongoing. And, as the Gateway to South America and the Caribbean, the world city of Miami welcomes 10 million domestic and international visitors each year.
Miami Shield is the counterterrorism initiative developed by the Miami Police Department to address these and other challenges. Through community education and literature handed out in three languages, Miami Shield defines the seven escalating signs of terrorism:
- intelligence gathering
- tests of security
- acquiring supplies
- suspicious persons out of place
- dry run/trial run
- deploying assets
The brochure also clearly defines suspicious activity and encourages citizens to simply call and report an incident.
"If something doesn't look or feel right, we hope our citizens will let us know," says Perez. "They don't have to give their name and they don't even have to be sure it's a terrorist action. We'd like to know if it's an abandoned car or someone loitering around a sensitive area. In most cases it will be completely innocent, but if it's not we'll be ready."
If people don't call, Perez points out, his department can't follow up, and this can have disastrous consequences. In January of last year, for example, a thunderous explosion in a condominium building forced more than 150 residents to relocate for days. Miraculously, no one was injured, but a Florida State University chemistry student was arrested for illegally storing chemicals in a Miami condo. The chemicals — which were not illegal to possess — were stored in a refrigerator in the apartment. The vapors combined and exploded, which caused a wall of the apartment to blow out. The student apparently had a homemade chemistry lab on the premises stocked with easily obtainable chemicals. He ultimately pled guilty to a misdemeanor, even though he had been arrested in 2003 for the same type of activity.
"That's exactly where we need the public's cooperation," Perez explains. "If neighbors had seen something, they could have said something and this event might have been avoided."By land, sea and air
Along with innovative educational programs, several Miami area law enforcement initiatives are designed to do everything possible to foresee and preempt a wide variety of disasters, and to prepare for the events that might occur.
• Aviation detail
In February of 2006, the Miami PD celebrated the delivery of a state-of-the-art Eurocopter EC 120B helicopter. John F. Timoney had been appointed Miami PD chief of police three years earlier and had determined that a dedicated air unit was necessary in a post-9/11 world to protect the residents of the city of Miami. Purchased with an Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI), the Eurocopter ended the 11-year absence of an aviation detail from the force.