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Terrorist Incident

Preparing to Respond

  • Types of Terrorist Attacks
    • The National Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism identifies five categories of terrorist attack*:
      • Chemical
      • Biological
      • Radiological
      • Nuclear
      • Explosive/Incendiary
      *Multiple categories of attack may be employed simultaneously.
    • Terrorist attacks may be overt or covert, making detection and determination of the source and extent difficult.
    • Terrorist attacks may be deployed as an orchestrated series of attacks. Responders must consider the possibility of additional attacks during the response.
    • Biological and Chemical Terrorism: Strategic Plan for Preparedness and Response (HHS/CDC)

  • What to Expect
    • Large Geographic Scale. When a disaster scene covers a large geographic area, collecting and managing hazard information becomes problematic because of the difficulty of getting an overview of the scene.

    • Multiple, Highly Varied Hazards. Because the numerous hazards at the site of a major disaster are so diverse, they will inevitably go well beyond the experience of single response agencies. This makes it very difficult for individual organizations to characterize threats.

    • Potential for Large Numbers of People Affected, Injured, or Killed. Efforts of local organizations to gather hazard data can be hindered by operational demands, such as the need to devote responder resources to aiding substantial numbers of victims.

    • Prolonged Duration. Because disaster responses extend over long periods, logistics efforts must be put in place to sustain operations over days, weeks, or even months.

    • Wide Range of Needed Response Capabilities. The involvement of many independent response organizations in responding to a major disaster can complicate efforts to amass accurate hazard data. If many agencies independently carry out hazard monitoring efforts, problems in coordinating either assessment methods or the guidelines used to interpret results can produce inconsistencies in the data.

    • Damage to Infrastructures. Difficulties in collecting needed information are exacerbated by damage to or disruption of critical infrastructures. In many disaster situations, communications systems are damaged or overloaded with traffic, preventing responders from collecting and sharing information.

    • Direct Effects on Responder Organizations. Disasters can damage response organization assets needed to gather information after an incident occurs.

  • Planning and Multi-Agency Coordination of Responsibilities and Resources
    1. Define Hazard Types and Information Needs. Because not all hazards can be measured simultaneously, choices must be made about what hazards are examined first at particular events. By defining how rapidly hazard information will be needed, local planners can determine which assessment capabilities will be needed immediately and therefore must be provided locally. Other assessment capabilities, perhaps less critical or not needed immediately, could be provided by reinforcing organizations coming from beyond the local area. Responders identified the immediate need to monitor the environment for chemical agents, biological agents, radiation, flammable gases, and oxygen deficiency as key. Such a list provides a clear strategy for what hazards should be examined as assessment resources arrive at a scene.

    2. Develop Local Hazard Monitoring Capabilities. When a major crisis hits, safety managers will need certain hazard data immediately. Capabilities must be in place at the local level to gather that information. Data on facilities and locations that could present safety and health risks for responders is one key example of this kind of information. Such data can be acquired through facility inspections, regulatory filings, or other data collection. Because such information is only useful if it is immediately available and up to date, the importance of keeping this type of information current and readily accessible to responders cannot be overemphasized.

    3. Arrange for Access to Needed Hazard Assessment Resources in Other Organizations. The diversity of hazards that can exist after a major disaster means that individual response organizations must often rely on external organizations to provide supplemental hazard assessment capabilities and expertise. For example, external organizations possess technology and expertise to measure hazards such as airborne pollutants, heavy metals, asbestos, particulates, and others. In addition, external organizations can also provide access to technical assets that local response organizations could never support on their own. Agreements must also be in place to ensure that information produced by these varied sources can be effectively shared and used among response organizations. Implementation will require collaboration with state and local public health agencies, as well as with other persons and groups, including:

      • public health organizations,
      • medical research centers,
      • health-care providers and their networks,
      • professional societies,
      • medical examiners,
      • emergency response units and responder organizations,
      • safety and medical equipment manufacturers,
      • the U.S. Office of Emergency Preparedness and other Department of Health and Human Services agencies,
      • other federal agencies, and
      • international organizations.

    4. Plan for Influx of Convergent Volunteers and Supplies. Convergent volunteers, who are often not connected with any defined organization, present significant challenges to management systems. Similarly, uncoordinated delivery of supplies or equipment to the disaster scene can choke responder logistics systems. When incoming supplies are not systematically catalogued, responders may not be able to use them to support their efforts.

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Guidelines for Incident Command

  1. Notify local authorities

  2. Establish local on-site Incident Command System (FEMA)
  3. Approach site with caution.
    • Position personnel, vehicles, and command post at a safe distance upwind and uphill of the site, if possible.

  4. Ensure safety of responders
    • Consider risk of additional attack.
    • Identify all hazards (danger of fire, explosion, toxic fumes, electrical hazards, structural collapse, etc.).
    • Wear appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE)
    • Establish and observe boundaries of Hotzone, Decontamination Zone, and Support Zone.
    • Reroute traffic as necessary
    • Avoid secondary contamination as victims are transported away from Hotzone.
    • Victims who are able and cooperative may assist with their own decontamination. Remove and double-bag contaminated clothing and personal belongings.
    • OSHA Evacuation Plans and Procedures eTool (OSHA)

  5. Identify specifics of the chemical hazard.
    • Attempt to identify the hazardous material and exposure pathways. (WISER)
      • Chemical Physical Properties
      • Symptoms
      • On-site Placards/Labeling
    • Identify approximate number and location of casualties and injuries.
    • Identify nature of the site affecting response procedures:
      • Have critical infrastructures (e.g., electrical power, water supplies, sanitation, telecommunications, transportation, etc.), medical and healthcare facilities been affected? If so, in what way?
      • Is there possibility of additional attack?
      • Are escape routes open and accessible?
      • What geographical area(s) has been or may be adversely impacted?
      • Estimation of protective distance/threat zone

  6. Protect the public from further injury by implementing Protective Actions appropriate for the incident. Continue to gather information and monitor the event so that protective actions can be modified based upon each changing situation as needed, or until the threat is removed.

  7. Ensure the needs of specific populations are being addressed.

  8. Begin triage of patients using protocols appropriate for the chemical emergency
    • Alert local medical infrastructure to prepare for mass casualty transports

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  1. Biological and Chemical Terrorism: Strategic Plan for Preparedness and Response. Recommendations of the CDC Strategic Planning Workgroup (HHS/CDC, 2000)
  2. Unaffiliated Volunteers in Response and Recovery (PDF - 962 KB) (Volunteer Florida)
  3. A Project Responder Report: Technology Opportunities for Implementing the National Incident Management System. 12 National Terrorism Response Objectives (NTROs) (PDF - 2025 KB) (The Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism and the United States Department of Homeland Security)
  4. Terrorism (PDF - 894 KB) (DHS/FEMA)
  5. Emergency Preparedness and Response: Preparation and Planning (HHS/CDC)
  6. Guidance on Initial Responses to a Suspicious Letter / Container With a Potential Biological Threat (PDF - 242 KB) (FBI, DHS, HHS, CDC, 2004)
  7. Incident Command System (FEMA)
  8. Hazardous Materials Incidents (DHS/FEMA, 2010)
  9. Evacuation Plans and Procedures eTool (OSHA)
  10. Chemical Emergencies (DHS/FEMA)
  11. Protecting Emergency Responders, Volume 3: Safety Management in Disaster and Terrorism Response. NIOSH Publication No. 2004-144 (HHS/CDC/NIOSH, 2004)
  12. Emergency Response Guidebook (2016 Emergency Response Guidebook: A Guidebook for First Responders During the Initial Phase of a Dangerous Goods/Hazardous Materials Incident, DOT, 2016)
  13. NIOSH Pocket Guide to Chemical Hazards (HHS/CDC/NIOSH)
  14. (DHS/FEMA, 2010)

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