Terrorism and Agents

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Terrorism and Agents


The US Department of Homeland Security National Terrorism Advisory System communicates information about terrorist threats by providing timely, detailed information to the American public. See the June 2016 Bulletin that describes the government’s counterterrorism efforts, and how the public can help and be prepared in the current environment.

Terrorism refers to acts that are:
  • Intentional and premeditated.
  • Targeted toward innocent bystanders.
  • Intended to hurt, maim, or kill large numbers of people.
  • Destructive to critical infrastructure or key resources.
  • Designed to incite fear and create a sense of helplessness, eroding confidence in the ability of the government to protect its population.
The medical consequences and epidemiology of these situations can be similar to what happens when there has been an accident or natural disaster. There may be mass casualties, unknown toxicity of substances, delayed identification of the weapon or substance, and confusion or panic. Promoting resilience and considering how to talk to children or help them with adjustment and coping can be essential.

Successful community preparedness and planning efforts are important and can mitigate the consequences of these situations. However, those involved in community planning should understand that medical facilities and personnel, first responders, and children are not simply potential victims but may even be singled out for attack, or secondary attack. Terrorists do not "fight fair" and will seek to exploit logistical and psychological vulnerabilities. By considering various "what if..." scenarios, and developing plans that acknowledge worst-case situations, health professionals and communities can be better prepared.

Select a topic below to learn more about the various types of agents that can be used in terrorist attacks.

Biological Terrorism/Agents
Terrorism by release or dissemination of biological agents such as bacteria, viruses, or toxins. These agents may be used in a natural or modified form.

Blast Terrorism/Agents
Terrorism through use of solid, liquid, or gaseous substances that, when detonated, modify into products in the form of heat, gas, or energy.

Chemical Terrorism/Agents
Terrorism by the use of toxic chemicals or chemical weapons.

Radiologic/Nuclear Terrorism/Agents
Terrorism by the detonation of one or more nuclear weapons, deployment of a radiation-producing device, or placement of a radioactive source (ie, nuclear waste material) in a public location.

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