A bomb explodes in the crowded downtown of a major city. Police, fire and emergency medical services personnel quickly respond to the scene. Office workers pour into the street as they evacuate their offices for “safety.” A second explosion–more powerful than the first–occurs minutes later.
A secondary explosion is always a concern for responding emergency services, but it is not their only concern. Radiological, chemical or biological material can be spread by explosive devices. Unwittingly, evacuees from buildings surrounding the initial explosion could walk into the path of the secondary device or risk exposure to life-threatening airborne hazards.
Risk managers must be prepared to promptly recognize a threat, decide quickly how to respond, and then effectively execute predetermined procedures to safeguard employees and protect both physical assets and business operations.
Terrorism is not new. A 1999 report by the FBI reported 327 incidents or suspected incidents of terrorism in the United States between 1980 and 1999. More than 200 people were killed and over 2000 injured in these attacks. Bombings have occurred around the globe:
A 1992 series of explosions in London resulted in damage to 200 buildings and multiple deaths.
The 1993 bombing of New York’s World Trade Center killed six and injured over 1,000.
The 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City killed 168 and injured more than 600.
A series of bombings in Atlanta in 1996 and 1997 were perpetrated on Centennial Olympic Park, a nightclub and an abortion clinic.
Sept. 11, 2001 ushered in a new paradigm in terrorism–unimaginable acts resulting in catastrophic consequences. While the country was still reeling from the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, anthrax was posted to media outlets and government officials.
Although bombings have been the most frequent type of terrorist attack, there are many different threats that can and have occurred. Chemical weapons can be used, and one of the most notorious examples occurred in 1995, when sarin–a highly toxic nerve agent–was dispersed by the Aum Shinryko cult in a Tokyo subway.
Biological agents–especially those that are infectious–cause great concern because detection of an attack would be difficult and any delay in diagnosis would allow infectious disease to spread. Long before anthrax was used as a weapon, the Ragneesh cult contaminated Oregon restaurant salad bars in 1984 with salmonella to influence a local election.
Computer networks are critical lifelines for society and businesses today, and an attack could compromise critical infrastructure such as telecommunications systems, electrical power grids, or public safety communications. Penetration of a corporate network could also have dire consequences. Viruses, worms, denial-of-service attacks and other forms of cyberterrorism must be defended against.