Terrorism and Homeland Security

Homeland security begins with hometown security! An alert public plays a critical role in keeping our nation safe. Strengthening hometown security involves educating the public on the necessity to be aware of suspicious activity and to report that activity to local law enforcement. If You See Something, Say Something™! If you see something suspicious taking place then report that behavior or activity to local law enforcement or in the case of emergency call 9-1-1. The public should report suspicious behavior and situations such as a unattended backpack in a public place or someone trying to break into a restricted area. Keep in mind, factors such as race, ethnicity, national origin, or religious affiliation alone are not suspicious.

For more information on the If You See Something, Say Something™ program, visit the Department of Homeland Security website.

Biological agents are organisms or toxins that can kill or incapacitate people, livestock and crops. A biological attack is the deliberate release of germs or other biological substances that can make you sick.

The three basic groups of biological agents that would likely be used as weapons are bacteria, viruses and toxins. Most biological agents are difficult to grow and maintain. Many break down quickly when exposed to sunlight and other environmental factors, while others, such as anthrax spores, are very long lived. Biological agents can be dispersed by spraying them into the air, by infecting animals that carry the disease to humans and by contaminating food and water. Delivery methods include:

  • Aerosols – biological agents are dispersed into the air, forming a fine mist that may drift for miles. Inhaling the agent may cause disease in people or animals.
  • Animals – some diseases are spread by insects and animals, such as fleas, mice, flies, mosquitoes and livestock.
  • Food and water contamination – some pathogenic organisms and toxins may persist in food and water supplies. Most microbes can be killed, and toxins deactivated, by cooking food and boiling water. Most microbes are killed by boiling water for one minute, but some require longer. Follow official instructions.
  • Person-to-person – spread of a few infectious agents is also possible. Humans have been the source of infection for smallpox, plague, and the Lassa viruses.

Specific information on biological agents is available through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Chemical agents are poisonous vapors, aerosols, liquids and solids that have toxic effects on people, animals or plants. They can be released by bombs or sprayed from aircraft, boats and vehicles. They can be used as a liquid to create a hazard to people and the environment. Some chemical agents may be odorless and tasteless. They can have an immediate effect (a few seconds to a few minutes) or a delayed effect (2 to 48 hours). While potentially lethal, chemical agents are difficult to deliver in lethal concentrations. Outdoors, the agents often dissipate rapidly. Chemical agents also are difficult to produce.

A chemical attack could come without warning. Signs of a chemical release include people having difficulty breathing; experiencing eye irritation; losing coordination; becoming nauseated; or having a burning sensation in the nose, throat and lungs. Also, the presence of many dead insects or birds may indicate a chemical agent release.

Often times, we may not realize that our actions online might put us, our families, and even our country at risk. Learning about the dangers online and taking action to protect ourselves is the first step in making the Internet a safer place for everyone. Cybersecurity is a shared responsibility and we each have a role to play.

Cybersecurity involves protecting that infrastructure by preventing, detecting, and responding to cyber incidents. Unlike physical threats that prompt immediate action–like stop, drop, and roll in the event of a fire–cyber threats are often difficult to identify and comprehend. Among these dangers are viruses erasing entire systems, intruders breaking into systems and altering files, intruders using your computer or device to attack others, or intruders stealing confidential information. The spectrum of cyber risks is limitless; threats, some more serious and sophisticated than others, can have wide-ranging effects on the individual, community, organizational, and national level. These risks include:

  • Organized cybercrime, state-sponsored hackers, and cyber espionage can pose national security risks to our country.
  • Transportation, power, and other services may be disrupted by large scale cyber incidents. The extent of the disruption is highly uncertain as it will be determined by many unknown factors such as the target and size of the incident.
  • Vulnerability to data breach and loss increases if an organization’s network is compromised. Information about a company, its employees, and its customers can be at risk.
  • Individually-owned devices such as computers, tablets, mobile phones, and gaming systems that connect to the Internet are vulnerable to intrusion. Personal information may be at risk without proper security.

Terrorists have frequently used explosive devices as one of their most common weapons. Terrorists do not have to look far to find out how to make explosive devices; the information is readily available in books and other information sources. Explosive devices can be highly portable, using vehicles and humans as a means of transport. They are easily detonated from remote locations or by suicide bombers.

Conventional bombs have been used to damage and destroy financial, political, social, and religious institutions. Attacks have occurred in public places and on city streets with thousands of people around the world injured and killed.

Learn what to do if you receive a bomb threat or get a suspicious package or letter.

Devastating acts, such as the terrorist attacks on the Oklahoma City and September 11th, have left many concerned about the possibility of future incidents in the United States.

Nevertheless, there are things you can do to prepare for the unexpected. Preparing for such events will reduce the stress that you may feel now, and later, should another emergency arise.

Taking preparatory action can reassure you and your children that you can exert a measure of control even in the face of such events.

A nuclear blast is an explosion with intense light and heat, a damaging pressure wave, and widespread radioactive material that can contaminate the air, water, and ground surfaces for miles around. A nuclear device can range from a weapon carried by an intercontinental missile launched by a hostile nation or terrorist organization, to a small portable nuclear device transported by an individual. All nuclear devices cause deadly effects when exploded, including blinding light, intense heat (thermal radiation), initial nuclear radiation, blast, fires started by the heat pulse and secondary fires caused by the destruction.

The nuclear threat present during the Cold War has diminished; however, the possibility remains that a terrorist could obtain access to a nuclear weapon. Called improvised nuclear devices (IND), these are generally smaller, less powerful weapons than we traditionally envision. While experts may predict that a nuclear attack is less likely than other types, it is still important to know the simple steps that can save your life and the life of your family.

Terrorist use of an Radiological Dispersion Device (RDD) — often called “dirty nuke” or “dirty bomb” — is considered far more likely than use of a nuclear explosive device. An RDD combines a conventional explosive device — such as a bomb — with radioactive material. It is designed to scatter dangerous and sub-lethal amounts of radioactive material over a general area. Such RDDs appeal to terrorists because they require limited technical knowledge to build and deploy compared to a nuclear device. Also, the radioactive materials in RDDs are widely used in medicine, agriculture, industry and research, and are easier to obtain than weapons grade uranium or plutonium.

The primary purpose of terrorist use of an RDD is to cause psychological fear and economic disruption. Some devices could cause fatalities from exposure to radioactive materials. Depending on the speed at which the area of the RDD detonation was evacuated or how successful people were at sheltering-in-place, the number of deaths and injuries from an RDD might not be substantially greater than from a conventional bomb explosion.

The size of the affected area and the level of destruction caused by an RDD would depend on the sophistication and size of the conventional bomb, the type of radioactive material used, the quality and quantity of the radioactive material, and the local meteorological conditions – primarily wind and precipitation. The area affected could be placed off-limits to the public for several months during cleanup efforts.