Classroom Activities
Are We Safer?

After Sept. 11, 2001, the federal government created the Department of Homeland Security and tasked it with preventing future terrorist attacks on American soil. The creation of this massive and expensive bureaucracy resulted in a dramatic expansion of government scrutiny over individual Americans' behavior and, critics argue, a decrease in civil liberties. The degree to which these trends have made Americans safer is unclear.

Getting Started

For classrooms studying Social Studies, Civics, Law and American History, this FRONTLINE teacher's guide includes a set of themes and discussion questions to help students analyze and understand key current events. Watch the video and start a discussion about whether or not these new measures to keep America safer have achieved their goals. Go further into this topic with the Are We Safer? lesson plan that asks students to look closely at the use of Suspicious Activity Reports.


Video Themes

  • After 9/11, President George W. Bush merged 17 federal agencies to form the Department of Homeland Security and charged it with creating a usable and efficient early-warning system to prevent future attacks.

  • This system includes the use of Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs), which detail behavior potentially connected to criminal or terrorist activity, and the development of fusion centers, which serve as clearinghouses for the massive amount of data generated by SARs.

  • Supporters of this system assert that it has made America a safer nation, while critics say that the use of SARs and attendant technology (such as surveillance cameras on police cruisers to identify license plates) has grown increasingly invasive of Americans' privacy.

  • There has been massive growth in the private and public security apparatus of the United States, so large, unwieldy and secret that no one has a complete picture of how much it costs or everything that it does.

Discussion Questions

  • Why was the Department of Homeland Security created following the attacks on 9/11?

  • Consider the concept of "suspicious behavior." Describe what behavior you would consider to be suspicious enough to warrant the investigation of an individual in the following settings: an airport; a shopping mall; a public school; a military base.

  • Does the proliferation of fusion centers across the United States represent increased safety and security for Americans or an intrusion on civil liberties? Explain.

  • Consider the term "global war on terror." How does this conflict differ from prior wars in American history? How is it similar?

Go Further

Are We Safer? Lesson Plan: “Suspicious Activity Reports”

Web-exclusive Resources:
Map Your Local Fusion Center
Defining Suspicious Activity



Developed by:
Cari Ladd, M.Ed., is an educational writer with a background in secondary education and media development. Previously, she served as PBS Interactive's director of education, overseeing the development of curricular resources tied to PBS programs, the PBS TeacherSource website (now PBS Teachers), and online teacher professional development services. She has taught in Maryland and Northern Virginia.


Written by:
Mark Pearcy is a National Board Certified social studies teacher with more than 17 years' experience. He has served as an educational consultant for several FRONTLINE films as a writer and reviewer of lesson plans. He earned his Ph.D. in social science education at the University of South Florida with a specialty in curriculum and instruction.

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