‘Take that active role:’ Orange County residents urged to keep eye on red flags for homemade explosives

Law enforcement officers in Orange County and Orlando are teaming up with federal authorities to create a new initiative to help report possible homemade explosives.

The Orange County Sheriff’s Office and the Orlando Police Department on Tuesday joined members from Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency and the FBI to announce Operation Flashpoint.

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According to officials, Operation Flashpoint is “designed to increase awareness on how businesses and the public can prevent bombings in their communities.” Dr. David Mussington, executive assistant director for Infrastructure Security at CISA, said the purpose of this initiative is to encourage residents to be “the eyes and ears.”

“In terms of detecting threats early, enabling response and hopefully saving human lives. That’s really our focus,” he said.

Earlier this year, federal law enforcement officials said more than a third of America’s 101 historically Black colleges and universities have been targeted by calls or emails with bomb threats. CISA said in 2021, Florida had 35 explosion-related incidents reported across the state.

Chuck Leas, who runs Operation Flashpoint with CISA, said it’s important to remember product purchases at local hardware stores, beauty supply shops and other places are legal.

“And if you think it looks weird, a lot of times it may be suspicious and just call the number on for some professionals do a check because there may be something that where this person is something another part of the country and now they can tie it so we need that help,” Leas said.

He said it’s a community effort to report if a purchase is suspicious or out of the ordinary. The FBI said this initiative is empowering the community to “take that active role.”

Orange County Undersheriff Mark Canty and Orlando Police Chief Orlando Rolon also attended Tuesday’s news conference.

Rolon said this is an opportunity for residents to recognize ” that there is the potential for someone to find these readily available chemicals, not only to harm people, but also to experiment and maybe harm themselves or others.”

To contact law enforcement, people are asked to call 800-CALL-FBI.

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