Excerpt from
Survival Handbook for Chemical, Biological and Radiological Terrorism

This book is written for people without scientific or technical backgrounds to provide the information they need to protect themselves, their families and their businesses against chemical, biological, or radiological (CBR) terrorism. A discussion of terrorism risk factors is provided to assist in evaluation of the likelihood of attack of a specific area or facility. A broad range of recognition factors of this unconventional type of attack is provided so that the general public can be more aware of signs and signals of this kind of terrorism. Specific guidelines for immediate protective response to attacks of this sort are given in stepwise form. The protective precautions and emergency protocols will vary depending on the area to be protected, ranging from individual dwellings to various types of industry, offices, and other sites. The protocols provided here span the general area, while acknowledging that alterations and modifications may be required for locations with special needs. This information should help to save lives, as well as making the general public more comfortable in the knowledge that most will never experience such attacks, and those who do will be better prepared to come through them safely.

Chemical, biological, and radiological weapons in the hands of terrorists create a level of apprehension and fear that for many far exceeds that of conventional terrorism. The general perception is that more people will be killed and our ability to deal with the CBR threat is very limited. In a Washington Post article on ricin (a chemical toxin), terrorism expert Magnus Ranstorp noted, "In all likelihood a suicide bombing would kill more people. But ricin doesn't have to kill a lot of people or even succeed to produce a wave of panic."

The good news is that the quantities of chemical, biological, or radiological materials and the expertise necessary to kill thousands are beyond the reach of most terrorists. For potential victims of chemical, biological, or radiological terrorism, a little knowledge of these weapons can save lives. Understanding the nature of the threat and what can be done to protect people if an attack occurs can significantly improve the outcome.

There are two important parts to this safety program. The first is an understanding of the ways in which chemical, biological, and radiological weapons attacks can be carried out. Whereas gunshots or explosions are immediately obvious, the release of a chemical, biological, or radiological substance may not be. But in many cases the equipment and methods used to release them can be recognized. Many think of a terrorist event as beginning at the time of attack, but with CBR this is less true. CBR materials and the equipment needed to mount an attack must be acquired in or brought into the country and to the site of attack. Early recognition of a potential attack through knowledge of these dangerous materials and the methods to disseminate them can lead to early alert and lives saved.

The second part of this safety program is knowledge of the precise protective steps to take if an attack does occur. Unexpected attacks by terrorists using chemical, biological, or radiological weapons may seem difficult to defend against. Yet damage from these weapons is less inevitable than the damage caused by an explosive device. Countering the effects of CBR is more realistic than limiting the damage of explosion because the effects of explosion are instantaneous. The effects of CBR tend to be cumulative, leaving more time to initiate protective measures, to escape from a contaminated area, and to treat those exposed.

Chemical and biological weapons are not new. Since early in the 20th century they have been a battlefield threat. Radiological weapons are a more recent concern, born of the discovery of radioisotopes a century ago that have been used throughout the world in the last fifty years in research, medicine, and industry. This spread of radiological materials to many organizations and most countries, and the fact that there is no worldwide tracking system for shipping or disposal of radioactive substances, has made them potentially available to terrorists through illicit trade channels.

What is really new are not the weapons themselves, but the possibility that they might be used on American soil. Our soldiers have been trained to deal with them on the battlefield, but that battlefield was always seen as a place far from America's shores. The protective measures designed for our soldiers were never intended for use in our cities. Today, terrorism has brought the threat home and we are forced to develop the means to deal with it in the places where we live, work, and play.

Terrorist attacks with CBR are not as easy as some may think. The magnitude of the damage that terrorists could inflict is directly linked to the quantity of chemical, biological, or radiological material they could obtain, transport into the U.S. and to the site of attack, and effectively disperse. The limitations imposed by each one of these steps significantly decrease the likelihood that the U.S. will see massive biological, chemical, or radiological attacks. As inspection procedures for shipments and people entering the United States are improved and refined, the job of terrorists attempting to bring CBR materials into the United States will become even more difficult.

Relatively few Americans are likely to be at risk of experiencing CBR terrorism directly. Attack sites for terrorist use of CBR are likely to be selected for their 'shock and fear' value. High profile U.S. sites and businesses are far more likely to be chosen as targets than small towns or suburban residential districts, because of the added publicity and the likelihood that more people would be affected. In most places most of the time, the risk of CBR terrorism is considerably less than the risk of naturally occurring disease. However, a critically important safety step for everyone is to undertake a risk evaluation of the areas they frequent using the section on Vulnerability Assessment. For most, the risk will be close to zero. Those whose risk is higher can prepare more rigorously to defend themselves, their families, and their businesses.

The message that we can take measures to protect ourselves is an important one. Since the 2001 anthrax attacks our vulnerabilities to CBR have been broadly exposed in the media. Accounts of the anthrax envelope saga advertised our helplessness, the potential economic consequences of this type of attack, and the fact that we were technologically stretched thin in our ability to deal with the aftermath. These vulnerabilities make CBR attractive weapons for terrorists.

The first goal is to prevent CBR terrorism. Knowledge of these weapons and the ways in which they can be disseminated by terrorists can give the ordinary American the tools to recognize indicators that a threat may exist. In some situations, it may even be possible to stop an attack before CBR materials are released.

If a CBR attack does occur, the goal is to limit the damage. The answer to protecting against CBR terrorism is not simple, but it also is not hopelessly complex. Among a broad range of possibilities, there are those that are practical and those that are not. For example, few of us would be willing to tote gas masks around wherever we go for the rest of our lives. A practical alternative is collective protection measures that can be initiated in buildings in the vicinity of an attack at virtually no cost except to develop an understanding of what works and what does not. A step-by-step procedure to follow if a CBR attack should occur nearby can go a long way towards saving lives.

Two very important facts that should govern our preparedness are that the U.S. Government cannot protect us against every possibility of a CBR terrorist attack, and expert assistance will not appear at the target site instantly after an attack has occurred. We must be prepared to take the first protective steps on our own. In that sense the danger of terrorism is not unlike the danger of fire. We take precautions to prevent fires, but we also establish emergency protocols for immediate implementation to protect life when a fire does occur. This is exactly what should be done in the private sector to counter CBR terrorist attacks, but the steps necessary for CBR are different from those used against fire.

Each CBR attack that successfully kills people and disrupts our lives creates incentive for further attacks. If nothing else, CBR attacks gain a large amount of publicity. If as a nation we can show ourselves capable of limiting the damage of these attacks, the cost of acquiring, transporting, and handling may make them less attractive as weapons for terrorists. To the extent that we do not appear vulnerable and can contain the damage and move on with our business and our lives, CBR weapons may quickly lose their appeal. This is the ultimate goal of preparedness.

When the 2001 anthrax attacks occurred in the United States, there was little information on this subject available to the general public. To address this, Elizabeth Terry wrote the Survival Handbook for Chemical, Biological and Radiological Terrorism (Library of Congress Number: 2003094544; ISBN 1-4134-1935-6) as well as several news articles.

As a member of the National Intelligence Council at the time of the first war with Iraq, Elizabeth Terry guided the Secret Service, FBI, and Department of Defense in identifying vulnerabilities of key Government facilities, including the White House, Capital Building, and Pentagon, to chemical, biological, and radiological terrorism and establishing protective measures. Since that time, she has worked with major U.S. corporations, providing vulnerabilities studies and awareness seminars focusing on this special type of terrorism.

Survival Handbook for Chemical, Biological and Radiological Terrorism is written for people without scientific or technical backgrounds to provide the information they need to protect themselves, their families and their businesses against chemical, biological, or radiological (CBR) terrorism. Co-authored with J Paul Oxer, P.E., who contributes his invaluable expertise in water supply security concerns, the book addresses the realities and hype surrounding CBR terrorism.


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