CHICAGO (CBS) — Chicago police have increased security at airports, and train and bus stations in the city, in the wake of Tuesday’s terrorist attacks in Belgium.
Dozens were killed and scores were injured when a series of explosions rocked the Brussels airport and a nearby subway station, a day after authorities said a suspect in the November terrorist attack in Paris was likely on the loose in the city.
Chicago police said there is no indication Chicago is a target, but Interim Police Supt. John Escalante ordered increased security at “airports and transportation sites” in Chicago, including O’Hare and Midway airports, and bus and train stations, police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said in an email.
“There is no current intelligence, threat or nexus to Chicago concerning the Brussels incident. However we prepare and have deployments in place to safeguard critical infrastructure. Due to the incidents this morning, we have increased our security posture (uniform and non-uniform) at the airports, public transportation systems and other high profile locations.
As a matter of regular procedure, we are also in continuous contact with our Federal and State partners as well. Although there is no nexus to Chicago and/or credible threat at this time we encourage everyone to be aware of their surroundings and call 911 to report any suspicious activity.”
More armed officers, SWAT teams, and bomb-sniffing dogs were visible at the terminals at O’Hare and Midway on Monday.
“We have to be very careful with these terrorists running around like crazy these days,” said passenger Esti Alazar.
“Security is at the top of mind but I’m confident in the security measures we take here in America,” said traveler Wes Walters.
Chicago Department of Aviation Commissioner Ginger Evans says they have been getting regular reports from the Department of Homeland Security.
Chicago-based United Airlines said they had two direct flights to Brussels scheduled for Tuesday. One from Washington, D.C. arrived in Belgium just an hour before the attack. The other flight, out of Newark, New Jersey, was midair during the attacks, and diverted to a remote location, where passengers and crew deplaned.
Despite the lack of a credible threat to Chicago, Ernest Brown, Executive Director of Cook County’s Department of Homeland Security says that isn’t stopping his agency and its partners from looking for any possible terror threats to Chicago following the attacks in Brussels.
“As long as there are people who are willing to try to change our way of life in America, then there is a threat,” Brown said.
CBS 2 Security Consultant Ross Rice says the heightened security will likely last for several days at a minimum.
“Generally attacks are planned out to come out in waves,” Rice said.
Rice points out many attacks happen without any credible threat.
“If it’s someone that’s going to act alone that’s been radicalized over the Internet, again there’s no way that you’re going to know about that,” Rice said.
That’s where the Department of Homeland Security says the public can help by reporting any suspicious behavior or people via its hotline, 855-RPRT-2-S4 (855-777-8274).
“People will do things in front of civilians that they simply won’t do under recognized authority figures,” Brown said.
When asked about people who are afraid to report something because they don’t want to be thought to be racially profiling, Brown said, “If you see somebody doing something that would warrant suspicion, picking up the phone and calling does not make you a racist.”
On the CTA, rail commuters are taking reassurances from city officials to heart.
“They said there aren’t any specific threats to Chicago so I’m not really scared right now but it’s nice to see stepped up security,” said CTA commuter Nick Papagiannis.
Sebastian Kolaj has family in Brussels.
“I definitely saw some apprehension on fellow riders this morning,” he said.
The CTA monitors more than 23,000 security cameras with multiple cameras at stations, on buses and railcars, which authorities say, provide a deterrent and crucial intelligence.
DePaul transportation expert Joe Schwieterman is in Belgium, leading a student group. They’re in a Brussels suburb, after the bombing stopped them from reaching the EU complex in city center.
“When it became evident rail was a target, the whole system shut down,” he said.
When asked if there is something to make rail systems more secure, Schwieterman said, “It simply isn’t feasible with our resources to give rail safety the attention we give to the airlines.”
A reality commuters seem to accept.
“I don’t see that it’s financially feasible at this point,” said Kathleen Callahan.
Doctor Robert Pape runs the Chicago Project on Security and Terrorism. He says the Brussels bombings are part of an organized campaign by ISIS killing in larger numbers.
“Paris was not a one-off, Brussels is not a one-off,” Pape said. “This is likely going to go on for a year probably.”
Pape says Chicago city officials need to invest more money in securing and surveilling possible target areas.
“Not so much we need more cameras in more public places as more people to look at the cameras in near real time,” Pape said.
Terrorism expert Thomas Mockaitis, a history professor at DePaul University, said Chicagoans first need to take a deep breath, and try to fight back fear. He said there’s always an element of risk, but nothing to worry about right now.
“We are not Europe. Our Muslim population is not ghettoized. It does not have the high unemployment rates. Yes, there is Islamophobia, but many of us speak out against it on a regular basis, and all that makes a huge difference. So we are nowhere near the same risk,” he said. “Don’t become a hostage to your own fear, because you only make things worse. The odds of you becoming victim are overwhelmingly against. You’ve got a better chance of winning that $1.5 billion lottery, probably than you do of ever being killed in terrorist attack. Bad things happen, but they happen on a daily basis in a city like Chicago.”