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Terrorism has been a buzzword in the fire and emergency services for several years, yet it is still very new and dynamic in terms of general knowledge, technology, training and response procedures. Changes occur almost daily as manufacturers scramble to develop new equipment to meet the needs of civilian emergency responders. Federal agencies also are developing new training and response procedures for response to terrorist incidents.
Photo by Robert Burke
Response to terrorism is a constantly changing technology.
It has been my belief from the beginning that terrorist response is just another hazardous materials response, with special circumstances. If a community is prepared to deal with hazmat incidents, it will be well on its way to preparing for acts of terrorism. Those communities that are not so well prepared will need much more preparation to get the job done.
Because of the constant state of change in response to terrorism, emergency personnel must keep up to date with the changes or they will be left behind to wonder what happened. In this column I will provide a collage of current information and changes for the emergency response to terrorism.
Coordination At The Federal Level
In the beginning, one primary complaint to the federal government from emergency responders concerned a lack of coordination of federal programs dealing with terrorist information, funding and training. As a result, the FBI's National Domestic Preparedness Office (NDPO) was established to coordinate the federal programs dealing with terrorist issues important to local emergency responders. NDPO has a website, which is part of the FBI site and can be accessed at www.ndpo.gov. NDPO issues an online newsletter each month called The Beacon, which contains information important to emergency responders. Current and back issues of The Beacon can be found at the site.
Recently, the House Transportation Subcommittee approved H.R. 4210, which was introduced to put an end to "turf wars and budget battles" among federal agencies. If passed by Congress, this bill would establish a White House office to coordinate anti-terrorism issues at the federal level, replacing the NDPO.
Potential Terrorism-Related Incidents
Major acts of terrorism have been on the decline worldwide in recent years. The threat of Y2K attacks did not materialize, thanks to law enforcement actions that thwarted a plot by Algerian nationalists to place bombs in Seattle and other U.S. locations during the New Year's celebration. Those involved were arrested trying to bring bomb materials into the U.S. from Canada in December 1999.
There have, however, been some recent incidents that were small and may not have been terrorist in nature, but reinforce the potential for terrorist acts that may occur in the future.
Early this year, 300 people in Kansas City, MO, were evacuated from their homes when anhydrous ammonia was intentionally released from an industrial facility. The person or persons responsible are not known, but this is a situation that a terrorist could perpetuate.
Photo by Robert Burke
There are effective monitors for chemical agent releases, but for biological agents few exist beyond the military.
Many industrial sites and railroad yards in this country are vulnerable to a terrorists, who could release chemicals such as chlorine, anhydrous ammonia and others into the environment, causing death and injury to the civilian population and putting emergency responders in danger. Many toxic industrial chemicals are gases and would not require additional dissemination once they are released from their containers. An explosive charge properly placed with the right wind direction could place toxic gases over populated areas quickly.