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Terrorism is the use of force or violence against persons or property in violation of the criminal laws of the United States for purposes of intimidation, coercion, or ransom. Terrorists often use threats to create fear among the public to try to convince citizens that their government is powerless to prevent terrorism, and to get immediate publicity for their causes. They often choose targets that offer little danger to themselves and areas with relatively easy public access. Foreign terrorists look for visible targets where they can avoid detection such as international airports, large cities, major international events, resorts, and high-profile landmarks.

A terrorist attack can take several forms, depending on the technology available to the terrorist, the nature of the issue motivating the attack, and the terrorist’s target. Possible methods include bombings, chemical or biological agents, or attacks on critical facilities such as transportation facilities, utilities, or other public services. The effects of terrorism can vary significantly from loss of life and injuries to property damage and disruption in services such as electricity, water supply, transportation, and communications.

Before an attack:

  1. Be aware of your surroundings. 
    • Learn where emergency exits are located in buildings you frequent. 
    • Be aware of conspicuous or unusual behavior. 
    • Do not accept packages from strangers 
    • Report suspicious behavior to law enforcement
  2. Be prepared to do without services you normally depend on – electricity, telephone, natural gas, gasoline pumps, cash registers, ATMs, and Internet. Have an emergency supplies kit in case basic services are unavailable.  For more information on emergency kits visit The American Red Cross.

After an attack

1.  Stay calm!

  • If there is an explosion, get under a sturdy table to avoid falling debris.
  • Leave the building quickly. Watch for weakened floors and stairways. Do not use elevators.
  • Once outside, do not stand near windows or glass doors.
  • Leave entryways, sidewalks, and roads clear for emergency responders and others still exiting the building.

2.  If you become trapped:

  • Avoid unnecessary movement so you don’t kick up dust.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with anything you have on hand, such as cotton material, and try to breathe through the material.
  • Tap on a pipe or wall to signal your location to rescuers. Avoid shouting so you don’t inhale dangerous amounts of dust.

Biological and Chemical Weapons -

Biological agents are infectious microbes or toxins used to produce illness or death in people, animals, or plants. They can be dispersed as aerosols, or airborne particles. Terrorists may use biological agents to contaminate food or water because they are extremely difficult to detect.

Chemical agents incapacitate or kill people, destroy livestock, or ravage crops. Some chemical agents are odorless, tasteless, and difficult to detect. They can have an immediate effect (a few seconds to a few minutes) or a delayed effect (several hours to several days).

  1. Public health officials may not immediately be able to provide information on what you should do after a biological attack. It will take time to determine what the illness is and how it should be treated. Check frequently for official news and information including signs and symptoms of the disease, areas in danger, if medications or vaccinations are being distributed, and where to seek medical attention if you become ill.
  2. Follow decontamination procedures recommended by emergency personnel to prevent the spread of harmful materials.