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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.