Penn Square Robot

A police bomb squad robot searches for suspicious materials after Penn Square in downtown Lancaster was closed to pedestrians and traffic on Wednesday, May 4, 2022.

THE ISSUE

Lancaster city’s Penn Square reopened early Wednesday afternoon after being closed for several hours because two suspicious packages were found outside Fulton Bank, LNP | LancasterOnline reported. Lancaster City Bureau of Police Chief John Bey said the two packages were found to be harmless. A dozen or so emergency vehicles were dispatched to the scene after a Fulton Bank employee noticed the packages outside the bank in Penn Square slightly before 9 a.m., Laura Wakeley, Fulton’s senior vice president of communications, told this newspaper. Traffic was blocked at West King, North Prince, South Queen and West Vine streets from about 9:30 a.m. until about 12:30 p.m.

We appreciate the work of the law enforcement officers who responded to Wednesday’s incident, not knowing just what they were about to face. We’re relieved for their sake — and everyone’s — that the suspicious packages that brought them to Penn Square were found to be harmless.

While we admit to some concern about the future of robotics and where it will take us, we’re glad that bomb robots exist to search for explosive devices and, if necessary, to disable them — keeping their human handlers at a safe distance.

The Pennsylvania State Police’s bomb squad deployed two robots in Penn Square; the robots looked like kid-sized tanks as they roamed the square. One person described them on Twitter as “adorable.” We found them more reassuring than adorable. Technology, used responsibly, is a marvel that can keep human lives from being put at risk.

We’re also grateful to the Fulton Bank employee who noticed, and reported, the two suspicious packages outside the bank.

This wasn’t a case of much ado about nothing. This was a case of necessarily reporting something that might have been awful. It was an example of the kind of vigilance that public safety experts recommend we all practice.

In other countries, people have been aware of the need to report suspicious packages for decades. This need only became apparent to many Americans after 9/11 when first New York City’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority and then the U.S. Department of Homeland Security launched “If you see something, say something” public awareness campaigns.

Some people have fretted that those campaigns made us overly sensitive to perceived threats — paranoid even. And it’s certainly true that the far greater risk to public safety has been the uniquely American scourge of gun violence, rather than terrorist bombs (politicians certainly prefer to focus on the latter).

But there’s a reason that gun violence prevention organizations such as Sandy Hook Promise also have embraced and adapted the “say something” mantra: because vigilance is critical in preventing all kinds of violence.

The DHS website rightly points out that its see-something-say-something campaign emphasizes “behavior, rather than appearance, in identifying suspicious activity.”

From that website: “Factors such as race, ethnicity, and/or religious affiliation are not suspicious. The public should only report suspicious behavior and situations (e.g., an unattended backpack or package, or someone breaking into a restricted area).”

That’s just what the Fulton Bank employee did. And everything turned out to be just fine.

But we’re guessing the employee would have felt terrible had a report not been made and harm to others had been the result. We strongly believe in the cliche that it’s better to be safe than sorry.

So if you see something worrying, say something. But do this responsibly, as the DHS website directs. We can be vigilant, while also being mindful of stereotyping and respectful of other people’s civil liberties.

A Lancaster Chamber first

Congratulations to Lancaster Chamber Vice President Heather Valudes for being named as the successor to retiring President and CEO Tom Baldrige.

Baldrige’s 22 years at the helm will be a tough act to follow, but Valudes clearly has the experience to represent and advocate for Lancaster County’s vibrant business community.

As LNP | LancasterOnline’s Chad Umble reported, Valudes joined the chamber in 2011 as advocacy director and was named vice president in the fall of 2020. She previously was the government affairs coordinator at the Building Industry Association.

As Umble also noted, Valudes will be the first female leader of the Lancaster Chamber in its 150-year history.

As we’ve written before, we look forward to the day we no longer will be writing about historic female firsts. A century and a half is a long time to wait. We’re glad the glass ceiling at the Lancaster Chamber finally has been broken.

lanc.news/ValudesChamber

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