Staying Alert Against Bioterrorism

The terrorist assault of September 11th on our country was both frightening and infuriating. Almost four years later law enforcement agencies and other first responders remain on high alert. Many of us would like to help, but do not know what we could do that would be useful.

One of the best ways we can help is by being observant and reporting to law enforcement anything that seems out of the ordinary. At the same time, we do not want to burden an already overburdened system with unfounded reports. Knowledge of some of the things a terrorist might use in a chemical or biological attack can help us to discriminate between normal commerce, and the purchase or rental of conspicuously normal items for a terrorist attack.

As unofficial vigilantes, the American public can make it much more difficult for terrorists to acquire the tools they need to wage their war. We may even be able to assist law enforcement to identify and apprehend terrorists before they have had an opportunity to attack. We now know many of the preparations made by the airline hijackers for the September 11th attack. We do not know whether preparations for other kinds of attacks are being made even now.

Many of the items listed below are not ideal for chemical or biological attack, but neither is an envelope as used in the anthrax attacks of 2001. There may also be other items not on this list that could be used; however this is a first alert to give the general public a mechanism to help in the protection of our country.


Dissemination Equipment

  • Aerosol generators
  • Paint sprayers
  • Mosquito sprayers
  • Pesticide spraying equipment
  • Any other equipment that produces a fairly fine spray
  • Water vaporizers

Vehicles of Concern

  • Tanker trucks that may be used for transport of quantities of chemical or biological agents
  • Jeep/truck-mounted mosquito spraying equipment
  • U-Haul or other rental trucks that may carry aerosol generators with hoses protruding from the undercarriage or back of the truck
  • Crop dusters
  • Small fixed-wing aircraft or helicopters

Materials of Concern

  • Quantities of toxic chemicals in excess of that required for individual use or for use by companies known to the provider

Personal Indicators of Suspicious Circumstances

  • Payment by cash of amounts usually charged
  • No driver's license
  • Out of state, or non-local driver's license
  • Fictitious address/impermanent address on driver's license
  • New individual or company not previously known to supplier
  • Immediacy of need where longer term planning is the norm

Areas of Vulnerability

  • External air intake for buildings
  • Vicinity of potential attack sites

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.