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Have a plan this holiday season

HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass. -- This time of year people are rushing around making final holiday purchases, enjoying elf parties (I am not the only one, right?), and visiting the local sights.

While we enjoy all that the holiday season has to offer, there are those who would seek to turn this joyous time into a tragic one. Here are a few thoughts and hints to help keep you and your family safe throughout the season.

Violent extremists groups, including homegrown groups, will likely continue to encourage attacks against the West. Focus areas will continue to include traditional “soft targets” such as public events or places where large numbers of people gather.

Pay particular attention to important dates that carry religious, cultural and/or national significance. If you plan on attending events on these dates, consider positioning yourself and your family near an easy escape route, or two escape routes would be even better. In addition, during the chaos of an incident, families or groups may easily become separated. Consider establishing a “rally point” in the event you become separated from your loved ones.

Refrain from drawing attention to yourself by unnecessarily wearing your uniform during non-duty activities and when traveling.

Attacks using a vehicle to strike pedestrians have been on the rise due to the simplicity and effectiveness of the tactic. Crowded streets and sidewalks -- like those of outdoor shopping festivals -- may be particularly attractive. Be aware of your surroundings. Is the event area set up to prevent vehicle access (bollards, blocks, planters, etc.)? Always have an escape plan.

Ensure you practice safe social media use, and be cautious as you shop online. Increased online shopping activity during the holiday season means increased attempts at phishing and other illicit techniques to bait consumers into releasing personal and financial information. I promise you, you did not win $10,000; please don’t click on it.

Packages left outside are easy targets for simple theft. Consider asking a friend to pick up packages, or require a signature.

Christmas trees in windows generally indicate presents underneath. It’s always a good idea to lock your doors, whether you live on or off base. I recently confirmed with Santa that he can still fit through the chimney, so he doesn’t need your front door or windows unlocked. He does enjoy milk and cookies and don’t forget about the reindeer.

We all have instincts for a reason; unfortunately, we oftentimes don’t listen to them. If something doesn’t seem right, you can always contact your local police department or 911. Remaining vigilant is the key – if you see something, say something.

On base, report any suspicious activities to the Eagle Eyes hotline at 781-225-3937 or Security Forces at 781-225-5000.

Be smart, stay safe, take care of each other, and have a wonderful holiday season.