Special Report:
Learning Lessons from Times Square Car Bomb Incident

(Learning TRENDS May 6, 2010 - By Elliott Masie)

Yesterday, I interviewed several of the people involved in the spotting of the attempted car bomb in New York City's Time Square - to look for "Lessons Learned About Learning."  Duane Jackson is one of the vendors in Times Square who reported the suspicious car to the police.  We spent a half hour chatting about the incident as it relates to skills, collaboration and expectations:

  • The Police in Times Square have a constant level of communication with the licensed vendors on the street corners.  They regularly check in with him about situations he has observed and also keep him feeling connected to the comings and goings in the busiest intersection in America.  He feels that the vendors are a sort of "first responder function".  It is key to him that the police on the local beat know his (and other vendor's) names and that they grow a bond of trust.
  • Skills from a Former Career: Duane Jackson is a former Vietnam Veteran, who learned observation skills and the importance of awareness for suspicious activity.  He will often tell one of the cops on the Times Square beat about a person or activity that looks strange - understanding that it is better to err on the cautious side.
  • He is a married father of two who lives in Westchester County. Jackson moved to New York soon after graduating from Boston University in 1976.  He also worked with the city's Housing Preservation and Development Program - and then got a vendor's license in what he thought would be a short term gig.  He says that his time in City Government, gave him a sense of the importance of supporting public servants and the need for various agencies (and citizens) to work together.
  • He believes that the relationship between the vendors and the police is a deliberate and important model of collaboration and rapid intelligence/response.

Speaking with several of the cops from area precinct. it became clear how things really worked as planned in their first response reactions.  They noted that it rapid sequence the vendors pointed the horse mounted police to the car with the bomb, several different types of cops immediately cleared the area, the fire department responded from 3 blocks away and the combination of human and photographic intelligence came together rapidly and in a well coordinated fashion.  They said there was a "low ego" feel for how people were reacting and that extended to the City, State and Federal agencies - including the Intelligence Community and private industry.
Take aways for me, that may be applicable to other organizational settings are:

  • Engage the widest "community" in collaboration and first level response.  Suppliers and customers are active parts of the processes in your organization.  How do we train them to be our assets and critical part of both a knowledge base and solution providers.
  • First level workers are the key in the line of observation and response.  At Disney, the street cleaners in the park are trained to be an active part of first response, customer assistance and safety perspectives.  The greeters at Walmart play roles from security to customer assistance.  We need to invest in the training and communication connections with our first level workers, for both everyday and emergencies.
  • Recognition is key.  Duane received a call from the President plus loads of folks stopping by his stand on 45th Street to buy handbags and get autographs.  The police on the corner were clearly deeply appreciative of the way in which the vendors are part of their "extended team".

Clearly, incidents like the car bombing attempt are part of the strange times that we live in.  Some would say we got very lucky this time and that future attempts might succeed.  But, the real lessons and kudos go to the people on the street corner (vendors, cops and engaged citizens), as well as the coordinated response of the government agencies involved.  Finally, it was clearly important to the officials that I interviewed that Times Square stay open, busy and filled with life.  As Duane Jackson said, "I am back at my stand, people are lining up to buy tickets for Broadway shows and we carry on.  New York works because we all have our roles to make this an awesome city!"




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