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Terrorism

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What is Terrorism?

Terrorism is the use of force or violence against persons or property in violation of the criminal laws of the United States for purposes of intimidation, coercion or ransom. Terrorists often use threats to create fear among the public, to try to convince citizens that their government is powerless to prevent terrorism, and to get immediate publicity for their causes.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) categorizes terrorism in the United States as one of two types - domestic terrorism or international terrorism.

Domestic terrorism involves groups or individuals whose terrorist activities are directed at elements of our government or population without foreign direction.

International terrorism involves groups or individuals whose terrorist activities are foreign-based and/or directed by countries or groups outside the United States or whose activities transcend national boundaries.

Biological and Chemical Weapons

Biological agents are infectious microbes or toxins used to produce illness or death in people, animals or plants. Biological agents can be dispersed as aerosols or airborne particles. Terrorists may use biological agents to contaminate food or water because they are extremely difficult to detect.

Chemical agents kill or incapacitate people, destroy livestock or ravage crops. Some chemical agents are odorless and tasteless and difficult to detect. They can have an immediate effect (a few seconds to a few minutes) or a delayed effect (several hours to several days).

Biological and chemical weapons have been used primarily to terrorize an unprotected civilian population and not as a weapon of war. This is because of fear of retaliation and the likelihood that the agent would contaminate the battlefield for a long period of time.

The Persian Gulf War in 1991 and other confrontations in the Middle East were causes for concern in the United States regarding the possibility of chemical or biological warfare. While no incidents occurred, there remains a concern that such weapons could be involved in an accident or be used by terrorists.

Terrorism in the United States

  • In the United States, most terrorist incidents have involved small extremist groups who use terrorism to achieve a designated objective. Local, State and Federal law enforcement officials monitor suspected terrorist groups and try to prevent or protect against a suspected attack. Additionally, the U.S. government works with other countries to limit the sources of support for terrorism.
  • A terrorist attack can take several forms, depending on the technological means available to the terrorist, the nature of the political issue motivating the attack, and the points of weakness of the terrorist's target. Bombings are the most frequently used terrorist method in the United States. Other possibilities includes an attack at transportation facilities, an attack against utilities or other public services or an incident involving chemical or biological agents.
  • Terrorist incidents in this country have included bombings of the World Trade Center in New York City, the United States Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. and Mobil Oil corporate headquarters in New York City.

Facts About Terrorism

  • On February 28, 1993, a bombing in the parking garage of the World Trade Center in New York City resulted in the deaths of five people and thousands of injuries. The bomb left a crater 200 by 100 feet wide and five stories deep. The World Trade Center is the second largest building in the world and houses 100,000 workers and visitors each day.
  • The Department of Defense estimates that as many as 26 nations may possess chemical agents and/or weapons and an additional 12 may be seeking to develop them.
  • In recent years the largest number of terrorist strikes have occurred in the Western States and Puerto Rico. Attacks in Puerto Rico accounted for about 60 percent of all terrorist incidents between 1983 and 1991 that occurred on United States territory.
  • The Central Intelligence Agency reports that at least ten countries are believed to possess or be conducting research on biological agents for weaponization.

Before a Terrorist Attack

  • Learn about the nature of terrorism.
  • Terrorists often choose targets that offer little danger to themselves and areas with relatively easy public access.
  • Foreign terrorists look for visible targets where they can avoid detection before or after an attack such as international airports, large cities, major international events, resorts, and high-profile landmarks.
  • Learn about the different types of terrorist weapons including explosives, kidnappings, hijackings, arson, and shootings.
  • Prepare to deal with a terrorist incident by adapting many of the same techniques used to prepare for other crises.
  • Be alert and aware of the surrounding area. The very nature of terrorism suggests that there may be little or no warning.
  • Take precautions when traveling. Be aware of conspicuous or unusual behavior. Do not accept packages from strangers. Do not leave luggage unattended.
  • Learn where emergency exists are located. Think ahead about how to evacuate a building, subway or congested public area in a hurry. Learn where staircases are located.
  • Notice your immediate surroundings. Be aware of heavy or breakable objects that could move, fall or break in an explosion.

Preparing for a Building Explosion

The use of explosives by terrorists can result in collapsed buildings and fires. People who live or work in a multi-level building can do the following:
  • Review emergency evacuation procedures. Know where fire exits are located.
  • Keep fire extinguishers in working order. Know where they are located, and how to use them. Learn first aid. Contact the local chapter of the American Red Cross for additional information.
  • Keep the following items in a designated place on each floor of the building.
    • Portable, battery-operated radio and extra batteries
    • Several flashlights and extra batteries
    • First aid kit and manual
    • Several hard hats
    • Fluorescent tape to rope off dangerous areas

Bomb Threats

If you receive a bomb threat, get as much information from the caller as possible. Keep the caller on the line and record everything that is said. Notify the police and the building management.

After you've been notified of a bomb threat, do not touch any suspicious packages. Clear the area around the suspicious package and notify the police immediately. In evacuating a building, avoid standing in front of windows or other potentially hazardous areas. Do not restrict sidewalk or streets to be used by emergency officials.

During a Terrorist Attack

  • In a building explosion, get out of the building as quickly and calmly as possible.
  • If items are falling off of bookshelves or from the ceiling, get under a sturdy table or desk. If there is a fire.
    • Stay low to the floor and exit the building as quickly as possible.
    • Cover nose and mouth with a wet cloth.
    • When approaching a closed door, use the palm of your hand and forearm to feel the lower, middle and upper parts of the door. If it is not hot, brace yourself against the door and open it slowly. If it is hot to the touch, do not open the door--seek an alternate escape route.
    • Heavy smoke and poisonous gases collect first along the ceiling. Stay below the smoke at all times.

After a Terrorist Attack

If you are trapped in debris.

  • Use a flashlight.
  • Stay in your area so that you don't kick up dust. Cover your mouth with a handkerchief or clothing.
  • Tap on a pipe or wall so that rescuers can hear where you are. Use a whistle if one is available. Shout only as a last resort--shouting can cause a person to inhale dangerous amounts of dust.
Assisting Victims

Untrained persons should not attempt to rescue people who are inside a collapsed building. Wait for emergency personnel to arrive.

Chemical Agents
  • Chemical agents are poisonous gases, liquids or solids that have toxic effects on people, animals or plants. Most chemical agents cause serious injuries or death.
  • Severity of injuries depends on the type and amount of the chemical agent used, and the duration of exposure.
  • Were a chemical agent attack to occur, authorities would instruct citizens to either seek shelter where they are and seal the premises or evacuate immediately. Exposure to chemical agents can be fatal. Leaving the shelter to rescue or assist victims can be a deadly decision. There is no assistance that the untrained can offer that would likely be of any value to the victims of chemical agents.
Biological Agents
  • Biological agents are organisms or toxins that have illness-producing effects on people, livestock and crops.
  • Because biological agents cannot necessarily be detected and may take time to grow and cause a disease, it is almost impossible to know that a biological attack has occurred. If government officials become aware of a biological attack through an informant or warning by terrorists, they would most likely instruct citizens to either seek shelter where they are and seal the premises or evacuate immediately.
  • A person affected by a biological agent requires the immediate attention of professional medical personnel. Some agents are contagious, and victims may need to be quarantined. Also, some medical facilities may not receive victims for fear of contaminating the hospital population.

Links to Terrorism Information

Source: FEMA

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