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How a Hand-Written Note Became a National Movement

By Greg Mellen

Photo by Anthony Fomin


Hard to believe, but one of the most ubiquitous terms of caution and vigilance, particularly when it comes to public safety and potential threats, was almost a throwaway.


“If you See Something, Say Something,” was coined the day after the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks by late New York ad executive Allen Kay, who scribbled the phrase on a 3-by-5 index card. He was thinking about potential slogans for civic engagement in the wake of the attack and jotted the phrase down without any specific client or project in mind.


Now, more than 20 years later, “See Something, Say Something,” has become part of the national lexicon. Much like “Just Say No” in the early 1980s and ’90s sought to spur action against illegal drugs, “See Something” looks to bring people together under a common banner for a greater good.


The slogan is synonymous with safety initiatives by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, Pentagon and Pennsylvania.


The Washington Post calls it the unofficial slogan of post-9/11 America. “The mantra, posted on billboards and public transportation, turns us all into amateur anti-terrorism crusaders,” according to the Washington Post.


Today, the message is at the core of a variety of security efforts. Locally, SafeOC, which is the localized version of the national ‘If You See Something, Say Something’ anti-terrorism public awareness campaign,” is the county’s leading resource in anti-terror and public safety awareness.





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