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Staying vigilant on the subway

Former NYC official talks about what passengers should do to stay safe
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With Thursday's announcement by New York officials that there was a specific terrorist threat to the New York City subway system, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and others have told passengers to stay vigilant and keep an eye out for anything suspicious.

What exactly does that mean?

MSNBC's Alex Witt sat down with former New York City Commissioner of Emergency Management Richard Scheirer about what citizens should do to stay safe in the subway.

To read an excerpt of their conversation, continue to the text below. To watch the video, click on the "Launch" button to the right.

ALEX WITT: When you have a specific threat like this one, what is it exactly those riders should be looking for and what should they do if they see something?  We heard people (say) you could feel intimidating or silly if you raise a false alarm.

RICHARD SCHEIRER: Well, first of all, you should never feel silly.  The police, the transit people want to know everything that's going on.  Nothing is too unimportant that they should let it go by.  If they see an unattended package, if they see an unattended bag, if they see someone who's wearing clothes that are really out of the ordinary for that particular season, they should report it.  They should report it to police officers, transit worker or the 311 number here in New York, 911 number here in New York ... if you see it, let people know about it.  It's just for their own safety.

WITT:  But you know Richard, it's a good thing that most of the time these things do not pan out.  But there were concerns a couple of years ago that people were talking about this terror alert fatigue.  How do you reconcile the two?

SCHEIRER:  It's very difficult.  The complacency level that people have when it comes to being prepared is very high.  It keeps getting higher and higher the further we get from 9/11.  People have to really understand that the world we live in has changed dramatically.  They really have to pay attention to this its not.  It's important to their well being, the well being of their family, their children and making that call, even if they think well should I or shouldn't I?  Always error on the side of caution.  It's very important that the authorities know about these things going on and that's what people need to do. 

WITT:  The more alert we are and the more we look into these things, the more likely we are to thwart any attempt.  You heard President Bush talking about tenfold attempt in his speech yesterday; attacks on the nation that didn't happen.  Is it because of the vigilance, is that the reason why? 

SCHEIRER:  It really is.  People don't realize how important it is.  In 1997, when I was Chief of Staff at the NYPD, we had an incident where five unaffiliated individuals were going to bomb the New York Citysubway system.  One of them got cold feet and reported it to a Long Island railroad operator.  It was that kind of thing that happens and when they made the entry into that apartment the next morning at about 6 a.m., one of them tried to detonate the bomb but a police officer shot him.  It's just very important that if you see something out of the ordinary don't presume that somebody else has told somebody about it or that people know about it.  It's not only in New York but throughout the country. 

WITT:  How do you reconcile what the feds are calling this particular terror threats vs. locals here in New York?

SCHEIRER:  There's a different set of priorities.  I think Mayor Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Kelly, Mike Martian, the assistant director of the FBI have dome absolutely the right thing in terms of the people of New York and the meeting area. 

An analyst's view may have been different as the mayor said earlier today.  But the important this is that the elected officials and the public officials here took it seriously enough and have done what I think is the prudent thing to do.  I would prefer that they error on the side of caution rather then presume that it really is a minor threat.