If you’ve driven on any number of highways in North Jersey in the past week or so, chances are you’ve probably seen one of these new, somewhat alarming signs. They read: “Suspect Terrorism? See Something, Say Something — 866-4-SAFE-NJ.”
So where did these signs come from?
Well, it turns out it’s a joint effort of the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness, in partnership with the New Jersey Department of Transportation and the New Jersey Turnpike Authority.
On Sept. 6, the aforementioned “announced” (not well, we might add) the launch of its “See Something, Say Something” public safety campaign in addition to variable message signs around the state to remind drivers along the state’s major interstates to remain vigilant and report potential threats and suspicious activity related to terrorism or other criminal activity.
Only thing is, no one seemed to know about the program until we did a little digging. In fact, we spoke with several high-ranking law-enforcement officials who told us they had no idea why the signs had been popping up. And, very few media outlets in North Jersey have reported them.
The campaign runs September through mid-February and includes nearly 200 of the message signs promoting NJOHSP’s suspicious activity reporting number across the New Jersey Turnpike and Interstate Highways, including I-78, I-195 and I-280 as well as (state) Route 440. Though not reported, we’ve also seen them around Route 23.
“The goal of the campaign over the next few months is to remind residents and visitors, who may be traversing New Jersey’s highways for vacation, holiday shopping and other festivities, of the importance of being aware of their surroundings and of reporting suspicious activity,” said NJOHSP Director Laurie Doran. “The public is one of our first and best lines of defense in the fight against terrorism. Our ‘See Something, Say Something’ initiative bolsters the State’s security efforts and plays a key role in helping to identify threats and to prevent attacks.”
The signs will target drivers during the morning and afternoon rush hours seven days a week from through Feb. 17, 2024.
“Safety and security are everyone’s responsibility,” NJDOT Commissioner and NJ Turnpike Authority Chairwoman Diane Gutierrez-Scaccetti said. “Using variable message signs on the New Jersey Turnpike and our interstate highways will help remind millions of motorists if they ‘See Something, Say Something’ when driving through our state.”
The campaign coincides with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s national “If You See Something, Say Something” Awareness Day, observed annually on Sept. 25.
“We are happy to support this important public information campaign by displaying the ‘See Something, Say Something’ message on the digital Variable Message Signs over the New Jersey Turnpike,” NJTA Executive Director James Carone said. “The nearly 700,000 drivers who use the Turnpike on an average day have an important role to play in protecting public safety. These signs encourage them to speak up if they see suspicious activity.”
“See Something, Say Something” messages will also be displayed on 511nj.org, specifically in the “Severity Alert” section and as a widget in the “Safety Message” section. Anyone who observes suspicious activity should immediately report it to local law enforcement or to NJOHSP’s Counterterrorism Watch Desk by calling (866) 4-SAFE-NJ or by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
While law enforcement officials tell The Observer there is no immediate threat of terrorism in the northern part of the state, a phone call to the Counterterrorism Watch Desk was, itself, revealing. The person who answered the call was likely a trained law-enforcement officer since the state website says the hotline is monitored 24-7-265 by such professionals.
The call-taker said there is a concern people in the state have forgotten too much about what happened 22 years ago on Sept. 11, 2001 and the corresponding need for residents to vigilantly report any suspected or potential terroristic activity.
“It’s to ensure our residents haven’t become too complacent especially with the anniversary of Sept. 11, just the other day,” the call-taker said. “We just want people to be aware and (if) they see something, say something, especially to suspicious terrorist-related activity, along those lines.”
The call-taker also said every law enforcement agency in New Jersey was supposed to be informed of the program and high-ranking cops were supposed to trickle that information down to rank-and-file officers. But there is no way to confirm whether that did, in fact, occur.
Editor’s note: This story will be updated as more information becomes available.
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Kevin A. Canessa Jr. is the editor of and broadcaster at The Observer, a place where he has served on and off since 2006. He is responsible for the editorial content of the newspaper and website, the production of the e-Newspaper, writing several stories per week (including the weekly editorial), conducting live broadcasts on Facebook Live, including a weekly recap of the news — and much more behind the scenes. Between 2006 and 2008, he introduced the newspaper to its first-ever blog — which included podcasts, audio and video. Originally from Jersey City, Kevin lived in Kearny until 2004, lived in Port St. Lucie. Florida, for four years until February 2016 and in March of that year, he moved back to West Hudson to return to The Observer full time. Click Here to send Kevin an email.