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Terrorism

Terrorism is the use of unlawful violence or other harmful acts against civilians for the purposes of intimidation, coercion, ransom, or to further political and ideological goals. Acts of terrorism involve violence or the threat of violence, the deliberate targeting of civilians, and the intention to create fear and “terror” among the general public.

Acts of terrorism can include assassinations, shootings, kidnappings, hijackings, unlawful destruction of property, bomb scares and bombings, computer-based cyber attacks, and the use of chemical, biological, nuclear and radiological weapons.

History of Terrorism in the Northeast

Throughout history, there have been many threats to the safety of people living in the Northeast. Most of these threats have been from natural disasters such as hurricanes, floods, and winter storms. These disasters have brought about large-scale losses of life, widespread injuries, the destruction of property, the displacement of large numbers of people, and devastating economic loss.

Recently, however, technological advances and the ongoing international political unrest in the world has increased the threat of man-made disasters such as acts of terrorism. Recent acts of terrorism in the Northeast Include:

  • The original World Trade Center bombing (February 26, 1993)
  • Failed plot to blow up New York City landmarks (1993)
  • The Brooklyn Bridge Shooting (March 1, 1994)
  • Shooting at the observation deck of the Empire State Building (February 24, 1997)
  • Hijacked airline attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon (September 11, 2001)
  • Letters containing Anthrax sent through the U.S. Mail (2001)
  • Failed plot to blow up several transatlantic flights using liquid explosives (2006)
  • Failed plot to attack the Fort Dix military base in New Jersey (2006)

In the Northeast, most incidents have involved a single person or small groups of extremists who use terrorism to achieve a political objective. Many of these groups have used guns and improvised explosives such as homemade bombs or hijacked airplanes. While the weapons used by terrorist groups have been low-tech so far, the threat of devastating attacks using nuclear, chemical, biological, or radiological “dirty” bombs is an increasing concern for emergency managers and law enforcement.

What is the Risk of Terrorism in the Northeast?

What are the different kinds of terrorist attacks?

Oklahoma City Bombing Site
Rescue workers at the scene of the Oklahoma City Bombing
EXPLOSIVE ATTACKS:

While acts of terrorism can include anything from mass-shootings to crashing an SUV into a building, explosives are one of the most common weapons used by terrorists. Materials to make explosives can be found in many places, and bomb-making information is readily available in books or online. Explosives are easy to transport, and are easily detonated from remote locations or by suicide bombers. Explosives have been used to damage and destroy financial, political, social, and religious institutions. Attacks have occurred in public places and on city streets. Thousands of people across the world have been injured or killed by explosives.

CYBERTERRORISM:

Cyber-terrorism involves the use of hackers to damage the economy or disrupt society by damaging or destroying its computer infrastructure. The immense computer information systems in banks, credit card companies, the stock market, the government, and in almost every company around the U.S. are potential targets for cyber terrorism. In addition, extremists can use the anonymity of the internet to threaten citizens, ethnic or religious groups, communities and entire countries from remote locations, free of the risk of capture.

While the damage from a potential cyber-terrorist attack on critical computer systems could be severe, as of today no successful attacks have been carried out. Most attacks on computer systems that have caused damage have been non-political acts of sabotage. In Australia a man was sent to prison for hacking into a Queensland computerized waste management system and spilling millions of gallons of raw sewage into local parks and rivers. In 2003, the Slammer worm disabled a safety monitoring system for nearly five hours at Ohio’s Davis-Besse nuclear power plant, but a redundant analog backup system was not affected by the worm, and the virus is not believed to have been part of a deliberate attack. Most computer information systems are already hardened against attacks from everyday criminals, although new and previously known threats could surface in the future.

CHEMICAL AND BIO-TERRORISM:

Chemical agents are hazardous materials that are poisonous to people, animals, or plants. They can be released by bombs or sprayed from aircraft, boats, and vehicles. Some chemical agents may be odorless and tasteless, and they make take seconds to hours to affect people. Fortunately, most chemical agents are difficult to deliver in lethal concentrations, and the agents often dissipate quickly when released outdoors. Chemical agents also are difficult to produce.

Biological agents are organisms such as viruses or bacteria that can kill or incapacitate people, livestock, and crops. Many die off quickly after being release, while others, such as anthrax spores, are very long lived. Biological agents can be dispersed by spraying them into the air, by infecting animals that carry the disease to humans, by contaminating food and water, or by contaminating terrorists in order for them to carry and spread the infection. Fortunately, most biological agents are difficult to grow and maintain.

NUCLEAR AND RADIOLOGICAL ATTACKS:

The worst-case terrorist attack would be one that used nuclear weapons. A nuclear weapon gets its massive destructive force from nuclear reactions of fission or fusion within the weapon. Even a small nuclear weapon more powerful than the largest conventional explosives. Moreover, individuals far from the initial blast would still be exposed to highly dangerous radioactive fallout. The damage done by a nuclear weapon depends on the size and type of bomb used. For a relatively simple nuclear weapon like those used by the U.S. in World War II, the initial blast would destroy nearly everything within a mile radius, with nuclear fallout extending for up to 30 miles. Such weapons would be capable of killing over a hundred thousand people and destroying most of a city. Fortunately, the weapons-grade uranium or plutonium needed to create a nuclear bomb is extremely difficult for terrorists to obtain.

A more likely terrorist attack would involve a radiological weapon, or “dirty bomb”, rather than a nuclear weapon. A radiological weapon is not a nuclear weapon, and has only a tiny fraction of the destructive force. Instead of using uranium or plutonium to create a nuclear reaction, a radiological weapon is simply a conventional explosive surrounded by radioactive material. When detonated, the conventional explosives scatter dangerous radioactive material over the surrounding area, creating a hazardous materials incident. The area affected by a radiological weapon depends on the amount of explosives used, the type of radioactive material used, and the prevailing weather conditions. In general, the area will likely be less than a few city blocks. While fatalities can occur from exposure to radioactive materials, the number of deaths and injuries from a radiological explosion will not be much higher than that of a conventional bombing, especially if evacuations and “Sheltering In-Place” precautions were used to reduce exposure. However, cleanup from a radiological explosion would be costly, and the area affected could be placed off-limits to the public for several months.

A radiological attack would cause mass-fear and economic disruption, as people would confuse a radiological attack with a nuclear explosion, and cleanup would be slow and expensive. Radiological weapons appeal to terrorists because they require little technical knowledge to build (especially when compared to a nuclear device), and radioactive materials are much easier to obtain than weapons-grade uranium or plutonium. Radioactive materials are used widely in medicine, agriculture, industry, research, and radioactive waste is a regular by-product of nuclear power generation.

Where is the Biggest Risk of Terrorism?

To some extent, all communities are vulnerable to acts of terrorism. While recent acts of terrorism occurred at high-profile buildings in New York and DC, there is no way to know if future attacks would follow the same pattern. Many different extremist groups commit acts of terrorism, and their choices of targets can vary widely:

  • International terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda have targeted high-profile business and military buildings New York and Washington, DC.
  • Domestic terrorists derailed an Amtrak train near Palo Verde, Arizona in 1995.
  • Timothy McVeigh bombed a government office complex in Oklahoma City in 1995.
  • Eric Rudolph bombed medical clinics, nightclubs, and a park during the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia.
  • The Beltway Sniper attacks targeted random people in the Washington, DC and Baltimore, MD metro area.
  • Luke Helder set off pipe bombs in mailboxes in several states, attempting to create a smiley face shape when his bombing locations were placed on a map of the U.S.
  • Letters in the anthrax attacks of 2001 were addressed to news media offices and two U.S. senators.
Global Map of Terrorist Attacks
A Global map of terrorist attacks, 2001

With such a wide variety of extremists in the world, almost any community might be the target of a future act of terrorism. Also, while some terrorists might choose easy targets where they can avoid detection or capture before and after their attack, others are willing to commit suicide in order to carry out an attack against a much more secure target. Despite the wide variety of extremists in the world, some areas are historically at a higher risk for terrorism than others. These include:

  • Military and civilian government facilities
  • International airports and other major transportation facilities
  • Large cities
  • High-profile landmarks and public buildings
  • Nuclear power plants and other targets that can cause high collateral damage
  • Very large public gatherings
  • Water and food suppliers and utilities
  • Medical facilities
  • Corporate centers and other targets of high economic impact
  • High-profile computer systems (cyber-terrorism)

When is Terrorism Most Likely?

Due to the wide variety of extremist groups in the world, almost any date might be chosen for an act of terrorism. It is safe to assume that acts of terrorism can occur at any time and any place without warning.

Who Is Most At Risk?

Who is at risk depends largely on the type and location of the specific terrorist attack.

In the Event of an Act of Terrorism:

IF YOU RECIEVE A BOMB THREAT:
  • If you receive a telephoned bomb threat, you should try to keep the caller on the line and get as much information from the caller as possible.
  • Record the entire call if possible, and try to ask the following questions: When is the bomb going to explode? Where is it right now? What does it look like? What kind of bomb is it? What will cause it to explode? Did you place the bomb, and why? What is your name?
  • Notify the police and building management immediately.
  • After you’ve been notified of a bomb threat, do not touch any suspicious packages that you find. Clear clear people away from suspicious packages and notify the police immediately.
  • If ordered to evacuate a building that received a bomb threat, avoid standing in front of windows or other objects that could be turned into projectiles should the bomb explode.
IF YOU RECIEVE A SUSPICIOUS PACKAGE:
  • Be weary of suspicious or unexpected packages and letters at your place of employment. Suspicious packages and letters have the following characteristics:
    • Packages that have no return address or a bad return addresses
    • Packages not addressed to a specific person, with misspellings of common words.
    • Strange-looking packages with protruding wires or foil, strange odors, stains, excessive wrapping such as masking tape and string, are of unusual weight for their size, or are lopsided and oddly shaped
    • Packages with a city or state in the postmark that doesn’t match the return address
    • Packages with excessive postage
    • Packages with inappropriate labeling or that are marked with threatening language
  • DO NOT OPEN suspicious envelopes or packages. Never sniff or smell suspect mail. Instead, place the envelope or package in a plastic bag or sealed of container to prevent leakage of their contents. If you do not have a sealed container, then cover the envelope or package with anything available (e.g., clothing, trash can, etc.). Leave the room and close the door, or section off the area to prevent others from entering.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water to prevent any contaminants on the suspect mail from spreading to your face.
  • List all people who were in the room or area when the suspicious envelope or package was recognized. Give a copy of this list to both the local public health authorities and law enforcement officials for follow-up investigations and advice.
  • If you are at work, report the incident to your building security official or an available supervisor, who should notify police and other authorities without delay. If you are at home, report the incident to local police.
  • In general, refrain from eating or drinking in a designated mail handling area, especially if a suspicious package is found there.
IF THERE IS AN EXPLOSION:
  • It is best to rely on police, fire, and other officials for instructions. However, as with any emergency, local authorities may not be able to immediately provide information on what is happening and what you should do. You should listen to the radio or TV for official news and information as it becomes available.
  • Take shelter against your desk or a sturdy table if you are inside. If you are outside and there is an explosion, cover your nose and mouth, watch for debris and quickly go inside a building away from the explosion that has not been damaged.
  • If the explosion was in your building, exit the building ASAP. Do not use elevators, and be sure to check for fire and other hazards.
  • Take your Disaster Supply Kit if it is readily available, and if time allows.
  • If you are trapped in debris, use a cell phone, flashlight or try whistling to signal your location to rescuers. Avoid unnecessary movement so that you don’t kick up dust. Cover your mouth and nose with layers of fabric that can filter the air but still allow to breathe. (For example, two to three layers of cotton such as a t-shirt, handkerchief or towel. Otherwise, several layers of tissue or paper towels may help.) Tap on a pipe or wall so that rescuers can hear where you are. Shout only as a last resort, as shouting can cause you to inhale dangerous amounts of potentially toxic dust.
  • Stay off your phone and cell phone unless it is absolutely necessary! Duirng a terrorist event, the thousands of non-emergency calls to friends and family have jammed phone systems, preventing emergency calls from getting though. In addition, emergency officials may be trying to call you about a danger in your area (using reverse-911, for example) and their important call to you will be blocked if your phone is in use.
IF THERE IS A CHEMICAL OR BIOLOGICAL ATTACK:
  • It is best to rely on police, fire, and other officials for instructions. However, as with any emergency, local authorities may not be able to immediately provide information on what is happening and what you should do. You should listen to the radio or TV for official news and information, such as the area considered to be in danger, the signs and symptoms of the chemical or disease, and where you should seek emergency medical care if you were exposed.
  • Unlike an explosion, a chemical or biological attack may not be immediately obvious. However, there are some warning signs that you should look out for. Many people having difficulty breathing, suffering from watery eyes, twitching, choking, losing coordination, becoming nauseated, or having a burning sensation in the nose, throat, and lungs may indicate a chemical or biological attack. Many sick or dead birds, fish or small animals in an area is also a cause for suspicion.
  • If you see signs of a chemical or biological attack, or if you are in the immediate vicinity of an attack, you should immediately get away from the area. Cover your mouth and nose with layers of fabric that can filter the air but still allow to breathe. (For example, two to three layers of cotton such as a t-shirt, handkerchief or towel. Otherwise, several layers of tissue or paper towels may help.) Contact authorities once you are outside of the affected area.
  • Treat a chemical attack like you would a hazardous materials incident.
  • If you are in the area of a declared biological emergency, follow the instructions of doctors and other public health officials. Keep sick people separated from others if possible. Use common sense, good hygiene, and cleanliness to avoid spreading germs.
  • Stay off your phone and cell phone unless it is absolutely necessary! Duirng a terrorist event, the thousands of non-emergency calls to friends and family have jammed phone systems, preventing emergency calls from getting though. In addition, emergency officials may be trying to call you about a danger in your area (using reverse-911, for example) and their important call to you will be blocked if your phone is in use.
IF THERE IS A NUCLEAR OR RADIOLOGICAL ATTACK:
  • While the blast will be immediately obvious, nuclear radiation cannot be seen, smelled, or otherwise detected by normal senses. Radiation can only be detected by radiation monitoring devices.
  • As with any radiation, you want to try to limit exposure.
  • It is best to rely on police, fire, and other officials for instructions. However, as with any emergency, local authorities may not be able to immediately provide information on what is happening and what you should do. You should listen to the radio or TV for official news and information as it becomes available.
  • If you are outside and there is an explosion or authorities warn of a radiation release nearby, cover your nose and mouth and quickly go inside a building away from the explosion that has not been damaged. If you are inside and there is an explosion or radiation release inside your building, cover nose and mouth and go outside immediately, then quickly go inside a building away from the explosion that has not been damaged.
  • A radiological attack has similarities to a hazardous materials incident, except that you are safer taking cover in an undamaged building than attempting to evacuate. Remember: to limit the amount of radiation you are exposed to, think about shielding, distance and time. If you have thick walls and roof (such as a thick concrete basement, with no open ventilation to the outside) between yourself and the radioactive materials, more of the radiation will be absorbed by the walls and you will be exposed to less. The farther you are away from the blast and radioactive fallout, the lower your exposure. Minimizing time spent exposed to radioactive materials will also reduce your risk of injury.
  • Stay off your phone and cell phone unless it is absolutely necessary! Duirng a terrorist event, the thousands of non-emergency calls to friends and family have jammed phone systems, preventing emergency calls from getting though. In addition, emergency officials may be trying to call you about a danger in your area (using reverse-911, for example) and their important call to you will be blocked if your phone is in use.

THINGS YOU CAN DO TODAY:
  • During periods of severe threat, increase your disaster supplies to be adequate for up to two weeks.
  • Be aware of your surroundings. Be on the lookout for the Seven Signs of Terrorism:
    1. Surveillance: Any unusual or suspicious recording or monitoring your area through video, binoculars, night vision devices, taking pictures, or making drawings. Also, any unusual or suspicious interest in a building or area.
    2. Elicitation: People attempting to gain information about your operations, staffing and security. Any unusual or detailed questions about a building, area, or event.
    3. Tests of Security: People highly attentive to locations of security cameras and methods. Any attempts to gain access to secure areas, or to measure reaction times upon entering restricted areas.
    4. Acquiring Supplies: People attempting to obtain explosives and weapons. Any unusual purchases or thefts of chemicals, fertilizers, weapons, uniforms, etc. Any attempts to steal or obtain fraudulent uniforms, credentials, identification, badges, etc. Any self-storage rentals with suspicious activity or suspicious items stored. Any unusual modifications of vehicles to accept heavy loads, or to resemble commercial or emergency vehicles. Evidence of cons, frauds, smuggling, counterfits, or other schemes to make money.
    5. Suspicious Persons Out of Place: People who don’t seem to belong, who loiter in an area where people shouldn’t be located, who have conspicuous or unusual behavior, etc.
    6. Dry or Trial Run: Putting people into position and moving them around without actually committing a terrorist act.
    7. Deploying Assets: People and supplies getting into position to commit the act.
  • If you see any of these Seven Signs of Terrorism, or you see any other suspicious activity that just doesn’t seem right, inform the FBI and your local authorities (Maine) (Massachusetts) (New Jersey).

Terrorism Mitigation

What is Mitigation?

Mitigation is the cornerstone of emergency management. Mitigation the ongoing effort to lessen the impact that disasters have on people and property through actions taken before a disaster strikes. Mitigation includes actions such as keeping homes away from floodplains, engineering bridges to withstand earthquakes, creating and enforcing effective building codes to protect property from hurricanes, installing smoke detectors in a home, and much more.

WTC Rescue Workers
Emergency responders at the World Trace Center site

Terrorism Mitigation Measures for Communities:

The effects of terrorism can vary significantly from loss of life and injuries to property damage and disruptions in services such as electricity, water supply, public transportation, and communications. In that respect, preparation for terrorist events is similar to any other disaster. Mitigation efforts for other hazards will also help to prevent damage from terrorist incidents as well. This “all-hazards” mitigation approach builds upon existing programs that mitigate other natural and technological hazards while focusing on security of the public. With this “all-hazards” approach in mind, communities can and should:

  • Recognize facility vulnerabilities and find structural mitigation strategies to reduce them.
  • Assess and enhance security measures at critical facilities.
  • Design and install vehicle barrier systems at critical facilities.
  • Find mitigation strategies to increase the security and thus reduce the desirability of high-profile targets.
  • Implement coordinated emergency management systems, enhance regional communication, and make regional situational awareness a priority, so that local and national law enforcement can effectively counter terrorist planning activities.

Terrorism Mitigation Measures for Individuals:

Check the “Things You Can Do Today” section for tips on mitigating your risk from terrorism, and work with building owners in your place of work to ensure that the following items are located on each floor of your building:

  • Portable, battery-operated radio and extra batteries.
  • Several flashlights and extra batteries
  • First aid kit and manual.
  • Hard hats and dust masks.
  • Fluorescent tape to rope off dangerous areas.

Links to Additional Information about Terrorism in the Northeast:

Did You Know?

  • Approximately 641 terrorist incidents occurred in the United States between 1971 and 1975 compared to 272 between 1980 and 1999. Among these attacks were 166 bombings, 120 fire bombings, and 118 shootings. During the first six months of 1975 alone, 24 attacks occurred in California, 12 in New York, and 11 were directed at targets on the U.S. Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.
  • Attacks in Puerto Rico accounted for about 60 percent of all terrorist incidents between 1983 and 1991 on U.S. soil.
  • Terrorists groups motivated by religious concerns are becoming more common. Of 11 identified by the Rand Corporation in 1968, none were classified as religiously motivated. By 1994, a third of the 49 international groups identified were classified as religious.
  • An attack against agriculture, livestock, or other food supplies with a biological, chemical, or radiological weapon is known as agroterrorism.
  • At 9:40 a.m. on September 11, 2001, following the most recent attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the Federal Aviation Administration halted all flight operations at U.S. airports, the first time in U.S. history that air traffic nationwide has been halted.
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