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  • 23 Oct 2014

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Our Opinion: We should be alert, aware and watchful

Monday’s bombing at the Boston Marathon has us all a little jumpy.

That might not be a bad thing.

Just how jumpy are we? Tuesday afternoon, Portland’s Steel Bridge was shut down for more than an hour after someone reported seeing a man place a toolbox on the bridge’s sidewalk and run away shortly before 5 p.m.

Oh, we’re jumpy all right.

About two hours after the Steel Bridge incident, a bomb threat at Clackamas Town Center forced TriMet to stop its Green Line trains short of the station while law enforcement checked out the area.

The Green Line got the all-clear signal a short time later. The toolbox was empty. It apparently fell from a TriMet maintenance vehicle and a passing bicyclist spotted it, picked it up and moved it out of the road to the bridge’s walkway.

Portland police and Clackamas County law enforcement took real precautions in both cases. We’re glad they did.

Coming just a day after the tragedy in Boston that killed three people — including an 8-year-old boy who was cheering on runners — the Portland incidents served as a sad reminder that, in a free society, no place is completely safe from the hateful or depraved.

Monday’s news from Boston touched Portland-area residents on several levels. Portlanders mourned those who were injured or killed in the bombings and felt heartbroken for the victims’ families. Some people frantically tried to get in touch with friends or relatives who had made the journey to Boston to participate in the marathon. Thankfully, it appears most, if not all, local runners were safe.

We in the Rose City also struggled with the same questions being asked throughout the world: Who did this and why? One question that doesn’t need to be posed, however, is whether such an attack could happen here. We only have to think back to the Pioneer Courthouse Square Christmas tree-lighting bomb plot of 2010 to realize that there are people willing to cause harm wherever they can.

It’s really a question of prevention, and whether anything can be done to minimize the likelihood of terrorist acts. The answer, perhaps surprisingly, is yes. In the nearly 12 years since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, there actually have been very few terrorist plots that have come to fruition in the United States — until Monday, that is. Law enforcement officials throughout the nation have been much more aggressive in identifying potential terrorists and interrupting their plots since 2001.

The Boston bombings remind us, however, that it’s not possible for the police and FBI to thwart every plot. As Capt. Ron Alexander of the Portland Police Bureau notes, authorities also must depend on the public to be “alert, aware and watchful” and to report any suspicious activities immediately.

Alexander is head of the bureau’s Tactical Operations Division, which is in charge of the SERT unit (Portland’s SWAT) and the bomb squad. He and other officers have trained for several years to handle similar attacks on the public or public transportation.

The Portland area’s trains, buses, public events and buildings can never be made entirely safe, but as with all crime, the risks can be limited when law enforcement and community members cooperate and communicate.

We’re still a little jumpy. But that might be a good thing.