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Al-Qaeda sent Dhiren Barot to New York six months before the 9/11 attack to conduct target surveillances, including a firehouse near the World Trade Center. Barot’s filming of a fire station as a target itself and/or as part of a wider attack is a clear indication that terrorists understand the high target value of first-responder personnel, units and locations. However, terrorists targeting and attacking fire services and other resources – as prime objectives themselves – are not part of the operations and response planning of most departments. Such occurrences are foreseeable and emergency services should consider it in their planning.
Most firefighters assume that the secondary attack, designed to kill responders, will occur only at the scene of the call. The Mumbai attack and the 10,000 others have shown that responders can be attacked at the scene, enroute to the call or at their stations.
The initial call for the attempted car bombing of Times Square in 2010 was for a car fire. Due to their counterterrorism awareness, members of the FDNY assessed the situation and realized it was not routine, but potentially a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (VBIED) crisis and took appropriate action. The FDNY receives training for terrorism events; however, routine training and operations nationwide are frequently insufficient to recognize these crisis-type situations and new plans must be created to address them.
All firefighters have talked about the “what-if” potential for attacks on locations in their districts and realized that schools, hospitals and shopping centers may all be targets, but not all realize that the power grids, pipelines, water systems and rail lines that are parts of systems or networks that pass through their response area can also be targeted as a prelude to an attack on another distant location. Additionally, the use of explosives, chemical and radiological weapons and directly attacking firefighter locations and personnel to ensure the success of wider attacks present a circumstance for which departments are also frequently not prepared.
To develop response action plans for terrorism, firefighters must convert knowledge of threats into knowledge of risk. There can be many threats, but if you’re not vulnerable to a particular threat or would not suffer consequences from it, then there is no risk from that threat. A risk assessment calculates both the threats and risks so a department can develop response operations that address both. Without this, firefighters will be merely guessing about their actual terrorist-vulnerability condition.
A risk assessment is not an operational procedure itself, but an analysis from which operations are developed. It analyzes the types of threats and weapons used by terrorists, lists the priority critical elements of the department (see diagram the on the facing page), determines how vulnerable the department assets are to each threat, judges departmental capability to respond and recover, measures the consequence of an attack and compares the resulting risks between department assets. Some assessments also determine what needs to be done to lower risk exposure.
Threats & Risks
The following is an example of seven steps of a threat-and-risk assessment:
1. The threat component permits a department to identify the types of terrorist weapons it needs to consider and protect against and the means by which each of those weapons can be used against them.
2. The criticality element rates the relative importance of each department asset in accomplishing the mission. Establishing this priority indicates which assets require the most protection from the terrorists’ attack methods.
3. Vulnerability evaluates the amount of security a department asset has as compared to the possibility of a successful attack upon it.
4. The response and recovery element measures the department capability to respond and recover from each type of attack on itself.
5. The impact (or consequence) measures the amount of capability an asset would lose in a successful attack.
6. The risk component gives a prioritized rank to each asset and attack type. Each asset is compared to every other identified asset to demonstrate the relative risk between them.
7. The needs component reviews various security and recovery solutions to reduce the level of risk faced from a terrorist event.
Lessons to Be Learned