Crisis Management in Terrorist
Attacks and Disasters
Crisis Management in Terrorist
Attacks and Disasters
The terror attacks of September 11,
2001 transformed America. Policies and laws were enacted, wars were waged,
targets were identified, and Americans’ perception of terrorists and terrorism
was altered forever. Americans could no longer be assured they would be safe
from foreign threats on their home soils. Nearly seventeen years later, America
is still fighting the war on terror, with numerous terrorist attacks on home
soil since waged: from the attack at Fort Hood in 2009, to the Boston Marathon
bombing in 2013, to the 2015 shooting in San Bernardino, to 2016 attack at the
Pulse nightclub in Orlando, among others, Terrorism on America, specifically,
radical Islamic terrorism, is a constant threat from both on-the-ground and
offshore threats. While not as
devastating in terms of causalities when compared to September 11, these events
are bookmarks in the history of modern terrorism waged on Americans. This paper
will discuss the probabilities of a terror attack using a weapon of mass
destruction (WMD), while explaining the types and differences of attacks,
including chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and explosive. Since
firearms are not considered WMDs, a discussion of firearms-based terrorist
attacks (such as assassinations and mass killings) will not be addressed here.
The paper will then touch upon historical perspectives and current trends in
the WMDs of choice, and which weapons are used mostly by terrorist
organizations and why.
Probabilities: More than Math
In 2010, the U.S.
State Department reported in its yearly terrorism report that WMD-based attacks
by a terrorist group was one of the “gravest threats” to American security and
its allies (Nacos, 2016). Significantly, the focus on the threat stemmed from
terrorist groups’ increased interest in nuclear-based attacks. The report noted
that increased access to the internet has cleared the path for gathering
reliable scientific and technical information on how to build nuclear weapons,
including how and where to procure the materials necessary to build them
(Nacos, 2016). In addition, the efficient communications medium of the Internet
has made it easier for terrorist groups to source engineers and technical
advisors. Thirdly, unstable countries with nuclear capabilities, such as North
Korea, have increased the possibilities for access to under- or unsecured
nuclear materials (Sullivan & Bongar, 2007). If the organization secured
underground trafficking networks, which many already employ, the possibility of
a nuclear-based attack could be even greater.
to current research, most terrorists are focused on conventional attacks rather
than WMDs (Kelley, 2014). This is an historical pattern for multiple reasons.
If we were to follow historical patterns, we could assume that future terrorist
attacks will involve conventional weapons, not WMDs. However, this does not
eliminate the possibility of WMD attacks. As seen in the Boston Marathon
bombing, explosives can be cheaply made and covertly implemented, while
inflicting massive bodily injury.
It is important to
remember that terrorist attacks often do not have the sole goal of killing
people, although that is certainly a prime directive (Sullivan & Bongar,
2007). There are numerous ways these attacks can benefit the terrorist group,
including instilling fear amongst people (making them easier to manipulate),
discourage cooperation, breaking down government efficacy, seeking revenge, and
influencing public opinion (Sullivan & Bongar, 2007). All these effects can
aid the terrorist group with their motivations, whether stemming from devout nationalism,
religious ideology, or political affiliation (Sullivan & Bongar, 2007).
CBRNE Breakdown: Chemical, Biological,
Radiological, Nuclear, Explosive
While weapons of
mass destruction a few basic characteristics – they are designed to maim and
kill a lot of people in a relatively short amount of time – each type of weapon
has its unique properties. In addition, some weapon types are more popular in a
WMD situation. For example, while chemical weapons have been used infrequently,
they quickly can kill thousands of people, and are popular in wartime. On the
other hand, explosive WMDs have become a popular alternative for modern
of chemical agents summarize the allure of chemical WMDs. Unlike explosives,
their chemical compositions are used to deliver physical and/or physiological
damage to people. The history of using chemicals as weapons goes back to World
War I, when vapors and aerosols were applied by both sides. However, because of
the devastating effects of chemical weapons, they were prohibited by the Geneva
Protocol in 1925. While it can be inefficient in disseminating chemical agents,
the most commonly-used agent is mustard, since it is cheap and straightforward
to manufacture. It is also a persistent chemical with easily-foreseeable
properties. However, modern terrorist attacks involving WMDs rarely incorporate
the use of chemical weapons. Two notable exceptions are during the Iran-Contra
War in 1980 and a chemical bombing in Syria in 2017 – never noted to occur on
On the other hand,
biological terrorism emerged notable a few months after the 9/11 attacks. Five
people in the Washington, D.C. area died when envelopes filled with a strain of
anthrax. Biological terrorism, also called germ warfare, is the application of
bacteria, fungi, spores, and viruses to kill people (James & Oroszi, 2015).
While anthrax attacks have taken a back seat to more modern biological threats,
these three agents pose a serious threat. Firstly, there is ricin. Ricin, which
is poisonous when absorbed (inhaled, swallowed, etc.) by humans. Ricin is a
highly durable agent and can be transformed into pellets, mists, powders (James
& Oroszi, 2015). Ricin can also be
dissolved in water. When human ingest it, it first causes eye pain and redness,
followed by low blood pressure and tightness in the chest, and finally death.
There is also the threat of sarin and VX. Sarin is strictly used as a nerve
agent and on its own is classified as a WMD without any modifications by the
United Nations (Cirincione, 2014). The odorless,
tasteless VX is also deadly as it paralyzes the nervous system. It is a liquid
substance and evaporates slowly (Cirincione, 2014).
threat from terrorist organizations largely consists of RDDs, or radiological
dispersal device. The device is novel in that it combines traditional
explosives with radioactive components. The thinking behind RDDs is that upon
explosion, not only will people in the vicinity be injured or killed, but that
the radioactive material will infect those in the surrounding area. The bigger
threat from RDDs is the blast itself, which poses a much larger threat than the
radiological material contained inside it, for numerous reasons, the primary
being that the levels emitted from an RDD would be relatively low (Cirincione,
A nuclear WMD consists
of nuclear materials. As discussed previously, while the odds of a nuclear
attack are relatively low, the information on how to obtain and create such a
WMD is available online, as is increased access to experts and scientists to
guide the creation of a nuclear WMD.
destructive devices that can include everything from bombs to pressure cookers.
Explosives are popular methods for terrorism because they are cheap to
manufacture, and can cause significant damage in a short period.
types and varieties of weapons of mass destruction are diverse and plentiful.
Chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and explosive WMDs have all been
deployed to kill and maim. While Americans have largely faced terrorist attacks
on their own soil via traditional (and sometimes novel) means, varying from
firearms to airplanes, there have still been WMDs used to instill fear and kill
Americans, such as the bombs used at the Boston Marathon in 2013. The
possibility of a CBRNE-based terrorist attack in America is possible, but
historically they have been secondary to the above-mentioned traditional attack
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