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 typically plan their attacks in a way that generates the greatest publicity for their causes and creates massive fear among the public. Acts of terrorism include threats of terrorism; assassinations; kidnappings; hijackings; bomb scares and bombings; cyber attacks (computer-based); and the use of chemical, biological, nuclear and radiological weapons. You will find several of these threats discussed in more detail below.
Terrorism is a criminal activity that is planned in advance. To combat this, we all need to take steps to prepare in advance for this type of emergency.
HIGH-RISK TARGETS AND GENERAL PREPAREDNESS
High-risk targets for acts of terrorism include:
- Military and civilian government facilities
- International airports
- Large cities
- High-profile landmarks
- Large public gatherings
- Water and food supplies
- Corporate centers
- Mail (sending of explosives or chemical and biological agents)
Generally, you can prepare for a terrorist incident in much the same way as you would other emergencies and disasters:
- Listen to instructions provided by police, fire and other officials.
- Be aware of your surroundings.
- Move or leave if you feel uncomfortable or if something does not seem right.
- Take precautions when traveling. Be aware of conspicuous or unusual behavior. Do not accept packages from strangers. Do not leave luggage unattended. You should promptly report unusual behavior, suspicious or unattended packages, and strange devices to the police or security personnel.
- Learn where emergency exits are located in buildings you frequent. Plan how to get out in the event of an emergency.
- Be prepared to do without services you normally depend on: electricity, telephone, natural gas, gasoline pumps, cash registers, ATMs, and Internet transactions.
- Get an emergency supply kit that includes enough provisions for you and your family to live on for a minimum of three days.
- Make an emergency plan for you and your family.
Biological terrorism is the deliberate release of germs or other biological substances that can cause illness or death:
Many agents must be inhaled, enter through a cut in the skin or be eaten to make you sick.
Some biological agents, such as anthrax, are not contagious. Others, like the smallpox virus, are diseases that are spread from one person to another.
Chemical terrorism is the deliberate release of a toxic gas, liquid or solid that can poison people and the environment:
Chemical agents can be released deliberately by bombs; sprayed from aircraft, boats or vehicles; or used as a liquid. (Hazardous chemical spills also can be accidental, such as the spilling of household products like bleach or a release of hazardous waste. Read more about Hazardous Materials Incidents.)
Chemical hazards can have an immediate effect or may take hours or even days before they take effect.
Nuclear terrorism could include an attack on a nuclear power plant, the use of a small nuclear weapon, deliberate release of radioactive materials (radiological dispersal devices) or a "dirty bomb" explosive (an explosive that scatters radioactive material over a targeted area). You can find detailed information about how to prepare for and respond to a nuclear threat on the Nuclear Facility Incidents page.
OTHER TERRORIST THREATS
Other major terrorist threats include hijackings, bombings and cyber attacks. For additional information on these and other forms of terrorism visit: