Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) Terrorist Incident
Terrorism is a violent act or an act dangerous to human life, in violation of the criminal laws of the U.S. or any segment, to intimidate or coerce a government, the population or any segment of it, in furtherance of political or social objectives. Terrorist acts may produce chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and/or explosive (CBRNE) events. Although Franklin County has never been the victim of a direct terrorist attack, the county has a history of terrorist activity.
Terrorism has become a fact of life in today’s society. Terrorists’ acts may result in the destruction of public confidence in the ability of government to protect its citizens. Mass casualties and fatalities; catastrophic damage to buildings, physical infrastructure, or other types of property; contamination of buildings and property; psychosomatic responses from non-affected citizens; contamination/targeting of first responders – all could have a major impact on the county’s ability to respond and could place a major burden on the medical system and area hospitals.
Local emergency response agencies frequently train for the reality that terrorists may employ secondary or multiple devices intended to injure responders, impede response actions, or divert attention and resources from other activities. Devices may be employed at numerous locations in any combination or sequence and are often designed with anti-tampering devices.
The US Department of Justice uses the acronym CBRNE to describe the five categories of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD):
Chemical weapons are man-made mixtures or compounds used to kill or disable people. The deliberate release of a chemical warfare agent would have a highly debilitating and largely unpredictable impact within a community. The probable target choice would be a densely populated, highly visible site, such as a place of public assembly, public buildings, mass transit system, or a location with historical or symbolic significance. Such a site would put large numbers of people in danger and stress support and infrastructure systems. Victims in the target area could suffer the effects of a chemical agent immediately, or, with some agents, the effects can be delayed, causing casualties hours or days after the initial impact.
Bioterrorism involves the release of infectious microorganisms or toxins intended to kill or cause disease in a large number of people in an unsuspecting population. The result is not immediate, becoming apparent over several hours or days. Biological agents are a variety of either microorganisms or biological toxins.
Biological agents may be living bacteria, rickettsia or viruses that are able to establish deadly infections in their victims. Biological toxins include poisonous chemical compounds produced by plants, animals or microbes.
The use of a radiological dispersion device (RDD), or “dirty bomb,” is more likely than a thermonuclear fusion bomb or atomic bomb. An RDD is a conventional explosive charge laced with radioactive materials dispersed over a wide area upon detonation of the explosive charge. Weapons-grade fissionable material is not required for this type of device. Radioactive materials used to test bridges and buildings and radioactive medical material can be used to contaminate an area. Cesium, a radioactive material used legally for the treatment of cancer, can be weaponized and dispersed by an explosive device to contaminate the surrounding area.
A nuclear weapon is one that releases nuclear energy in an explosive manner as a result of a chain reaction involving fusion or fission. Nuclear weapons are considered the most unlikely CBRNE weapon to be used because of extreme expense and enormous amount of technology needed. Considering the difficulty in producing a nuclear warhead, the most feasible, and therefore most likely, form of nuclear terrorism is a direct assault on a nuclear facility.
Explosives are defined as unstable chemical compounds and mixtures that, when detonated, undergo a rapid reaction, producing large amounts of gas under pressure. Historically, explosives have been the weapons of choice for terrorists. The materials and technology needed are readily available. These types of bombs, also known as homemade explosives (HMEs), have been detonated in Franklin County. Bombs have the potential to generate mass casualties depending on the type, amount and placement of the material.
Incendiary devices also fall in the explosives category. An incendiary device is any mechanical, electrical or chemical device used to intentionally start a fire, e.g., gasoline, lighter fluid.