Dynamics Of Terrorism

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...


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Animal liberation activists have carried out attacks against facilities involved in alleged animal abuse. One such event occurred in Washington, D.C., when arson was attempted on a fur store. Militants in Colorado, Iowa and North Carolina have released animals, spray-painting graffiti on stores selling fur or meat, and damaging facilities during illegal entries. In Iowa 14,000 mink were freed from a fur farm, but died shortly after their release. Some quail released from a research laboratory in Colorado also died.

After a rash of hoaxes over several years involving anthrax, the threats seem to have subsided and are not receiving the media attention they were in the beginning. FBI guidelines established to reduce the impact and downplay such events might have led to the reduction. Responders were advised that all of the incidents had been hoaxes. Procedures call for a much-reduced response to this type of incident. FBI recommendations for responding to anthrax threats include: no chlorine bleach during decontamination unless anthrax presence is verified; no antibiotic administration unless anthrax is positively identified; and no mass evacuations or quarantines.

Anthrax, however, remains a credible biological terrorist threat. Because anthrax occurs naturally, it is easy for the terrorist to obtain. In Gerlach, NV, in August, a naturally occurring outbreak of anthrax killed 30 head of cattle. It is believed that workers cleaning a ditch released the soil-borne spores onto grasses in a pasture where the cattle contracted the disease. In Minnesota in September, six members of a farm family were exposed to anthrax after eating meat from an infected cow. Two family members developed gastrointestinal anthrax. The meat had been privately processed and not subject to inspections by regulators.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently identified the antibiotic Cipro, or ciprofloxacin, as the first line of defense against civilian exposure to anthrax. While Cipro has been on the market as an antibiotic for more than a decade, it is the first medicine to be officially designated for use after bioterrorism. It is most effective if taken within hours of anthrax exposure. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is stockpiling enough Cipro for 5 million treatments in this year's budget.

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Photo by Robert Burke
Decontamination runoff collection should be considered after life safety concerns for victims are addressed.

In a related issue, smallpox vaccine is being produced for the first time in decades for the military. Initial production will involve 300,000 doses, which should be finished by the end of the year. While smallpox has been eradicated from the world's general population, it is feared that terrorist groups may gain access to smallpox. Vaccination of the public and military was discontinued in the 1980s and many people, including children, are currently unprotected from the smallpox virus.

Middle-school students in Jacksonville, FL, ingested rat poison that had been sprinkled on salsa in the school cafeteria. Thirty-four students were involved, some complaining of headaches, stomach pains and nausea. All were treated and released from the scene and local hospitals. The pesticide used was Talon-G, which is fatal to humans only after large or repeated doses. Packets of the pesticide were placed around the school to control rodents. It is believed that two seventh-graders were involved. This is something that could also be easily done by a terrorist or terrorist group.

Some bottled water in New York has been found to contain sodium hydroxide and ammonia. People drinking the water from several different suppliers reported experiencing burning sensations in their throats after ingesting the water. It is unknown at this time who was behind the contamination or if tampering was involved. (One incident was attributed to a man who admitted to authorities that he poisoned a bottle of water, then drank it, to attract attention.) This too could be something a terrorist might attempt.

The recent discovery of the West Nile Virus in the Western Hemisphere for the first time could be suspected as a type of biological terrorism. Since its discovery in New York City, the disease has spread to several other states. While the source of the outbreak has not been identified, the disease has caused public health concerns, deaths and a potential long-term impact on the United States.

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