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Terrorism in today’s society

By: Jorge Palafox

July 28, 2011

In this day and age, we are all familiar with the acts of terrorism; and the fear, injuries and damage they cause.  We not only must contend with foreign attacks as we experienced during 9/11, but also must be vigilant against domestic acts of terrorism as we witnessed occurring recently in Oslo, Norway – senseless, violent acts against primarily innocent people.

Terrorism is generally defined as a use of force or violence against persons or property in violation of the criminal laws of the U.S. for the purpose of intimidation, coercion or even as simple as the request of ransom money.  These threats are used to:

• Create fear;
• Convince the public that their government is powerless in the prevention of terrorism; and/or
• Generate publicity to their cause.

Acts of terrorism comes in many forms, to include just initiating a threat, which can impact the basic daily routines of any law abiding community as much as an actual attack.  Other forms include assassinations, kidnappings, hijackings, bomb scares, bombings, and cyber attacks.

Most of us associate terrorism with the concept of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD’s).  Many jurisdictions have spent an exorbitant amount of time and money developing emergency response systems and promoting information to educate the public.  WMD’s generally include the use chemical, biological, nuclear or radiological weapons.

Terrorism usually involves a devastating act, sometimes more than one event at the same time.  As stated earlier, they intend to evoke fear and confusion.  The bigger cities, like SF, has specialized responses that can be triggered when you call 9-1-1.  They are known as the Metropolitan Medical Response System (MMRS).  But remember the response always begins with you.

In an open space, it is important to get away – upwind, uphill, upstream.  In case you forget, just remember “Up, Up and Away!”  All the nasty moving contamination should be flowing away from you.  Be aware of secondary hazards such as broken glass, falling debris and smoky environments.  A general rule of thumb is just that:  using your thumb, in a “thumbs-up” motion.

Stand back, put out your hand in a thumbs-up motion.  If you can cover the entire scene where the major terrorist incident has occurred with your thumb, then you are far enough away.  If not, then move as far away as you can so that your thumb does cover up the ENTIRE incident site.  Usually, this provides you with a general idea of how far away to be from an incident caused by a WMD or any hazardous materials, such as a chemical spill.

If you can assist the injured to evacuate to safety without harm to yourself, then move them away with you to a safer location.  Do not put yourself in harm’s way.  Your priority is to tend to your own safety and keep your group together, e.g. family and friends.  As part of the public safety response to the incident, they will provide you with more instructions if specific actions are needed to deal with the terrorist emergency.  Also, the emergency dispatchers on the other end of the 9-1-1 call will provide you with specialized instructions if you are able to call them.

Indoors, shelter-in-place orders may be given by the authorities.  Turn off fans, heating and air conditioning systems.  Close the fireplace dampers, if you happen to have one.  Listen to radio or television for access to the Emergency Alert System (EAS) for official notifications and updates. If you must evacuate, use the stairs. Take the ‘GoBag’ if you happen to be at home.  Use your duct tape and heavy plastic sheeting that you stored in your emergency supplies to cover the spaces found in the windows and doors.

In large public venues, good targets for terrorist, like a ball game or concerts, be sure to locate the closest exit for a quick escape.  Listen for official announcements.  Avoid spreading rumors – try to confirm any information with a credible source, especially in large crowds.  If you are in your car, make sure all the windows and sunroof are closed.  Turn off vents, heating or air conditioning.

Terrorists may release certain biological hazards that can cause contagious disease emergencies, even though rare and difficult.  Your public health departments at the local and state levels are already performing regular monitoring and surveillance to prevent routine epidemics of infectious disease.  In collaboration with federal public health agencies, ongoing surveillance occurs to note any anomalies in the animal and human populations, to include certain environmental changes.

The general guidelines promoted by FEMA include:

• Be aware of your surroundings.
• Move or leave if you feel uncomfortable or if something does not seem right.
• Take precautions when traveling. Be aware of conspicuous or unusual behavior. Do not accept packages from strangers. Do not leave luggage unattended. You should promptly report unusual behavior, suspicious or unattended packages, and strange devices to the police or security personnel.
• Learn where emergency exits are located in buildings you frequent. Plan how to get out in the event of an emergency.
• Be prepared to do without services you normally depend on—electricity, telephone, natural gas, gasoline pumps, cash registers, ATMs, and Internet transactions.
• Work with building owners to ensure the following items are located on each floor of the building (and should also be in your home and vehicle disaster supplies):

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

For information on explosions:

For information on biological threats:

For information on chemical threats:

For information on nuclear:

For information on radiological weapons:

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