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Terrorism in the 21st Century

The ability of the United States Government to prevent, deter, defeat and respond effectively to terrorist attacks against the citizens of the U.S. whether they are domestic, on international waters or on foreign soil is one of the most challenging problems facing our times.

The U.S. regards all such terrorism acts as a potential threat to our national security as well as a criminal act. We will use all capabilities to prevent these acts and to apprehend and prosecute any individuals involved in such acts.

New techniques have been developed to assist the Federal Government along with State and local agencies to work together in a coordinated fashion to prevent and respond to terrorist acts.  It has established a guidance for assessing and monitoring potential threat, notifying proper federal, state and local agencies of the potential threat and sending the required advisory and technical resources to assist the Lead Federal Agency in coordination of a crisis and consequence management response.

We have had different types of security issues during the history of the United States.  However, with the development of modern technology, we have had to step up with new processes in order to protect the United States from the modern era of terrorists.

A Real Threat

Terrorists have the knowledge and the capability to strike anywhere in the world.  We have seen that when properly motivated they will do whatever they have to in order to achieve their goals.  A chronolgy of major terrorist attacks includes the World Trade Center bombing in 1993; the Tokyo Subway nerve agent attack in 1995; the Oklahoma City Bombing, in 1995; the September 11th attacks, in 2001; nightclub bombings in Bali, Indonesia in 2002; mass transit attacks in Madrid, Spain in 2004 and in London, England in 2005; and most recently the Mumbai, India 2008 attack.

All communities, especially those in free societies, are vulnerable to incidents involving terrorism. Nearly all communities contain high visibility targets. These targets usually are situated  with ease of access (soft targets). Many communities have manufacturing and chemical or biological testing facilities. Other examples of locations that may become targets for terrorist activity include:

  • Public assembly
  • Public buildings
  • Mass transit systems
  • Places of High Economic Impact
  • Telecommunications facilities
  • Places of historical or symbolic significance

Despite our security consciousness, terrorists intend to wreak havoc and it will be impossible to prevent all attacks.  An act of terrorism can occur anywhere, at any minute, when you lest expect it.  Citizen vigilence and awareness is critical. The efforts we make as alert citizens can greatly improve our chances of prevention.

What is terrorism?

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) defines terrorism as “the unlawful use of force against a person or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives”.  This definition includes three elements:

  • Terrorist activities are illegal and involve the use of force.
  • The actions intend to intimidate or coerce.
  • The actions are committed in support of political or social objectives.

In one sense, it makes no difference to a first responder, whether the incident is a terrorist act or not.  You will still respond and be among the first on the scene.  Naturally, the size and the kind of terrorist action are key factors.  But the important point to note is that an act of terrorism is essentially different from normal emergencies.  You will have to deal with a new set of circumstances far different from the structural fire, auto wreck or even hazardous materials incidents.