Terrorist Attack


Political Index

CNN Gave Short Shrift Last Night to "Duct and Cover"
    I postponed last night's discussion of terrorist attacks because the experts CNN interviewed seem to feel that sealing up one's windows with duct tape is highly unrealistic, and that it was being promoted more for internal-morale purposes (like rationing during World War II, or the "Duck and Cover" movement during the 50's) rather than as anything that would help. They mentioned that the odds of being within range of a terrorist attack are miniscule, and that such attacks are liable to take a different form than releasing some kinds of nefarious agents in the open air. It takes a great deal more toxic material to distribute it broadcast than it does to release it in a closed volume like a shopping center or a large theater. We might do better to avoid enclosed shopping centers and large theaters during the next week or two. (The bombings in Israel give some idea about what to expect.)
Might not have time to seal doors and windows.
    One problem might be that most people wouldn't have time to cover their windows and doors in the event of a terrorist attack. 
Changes in barometric pressure would force a "sealed" room to breathe.
    Another might be that it wouldn't keep out noxious agents. A change in barometric pressure by 1 inch of mercury would place 70 pounds per square foot of differential pressure upon a sealed room. That might not be enough to break windows, but it ought to be sufficient to cause a rapid perfusion of air into or out of a "sealed" area. On the ground floor of a house, air could diffuse through the floor. Of course, the amount that would have to enter or exit would be only a percent or two. That might or might not be sufficient to cause problems, depending upon the concentrations outside. 
Barometric pressure would change slowly
   Also, these changes would occur slowly, since barometric pressure changes slowly.
Filtration might help with chemical and radiological weapons, but not with poison gas
    In the case of radiological or biological weapons, there might be some filtration and entrapment of toxic material during entry into "safe room". For gases, there would be no such effect.
Radiation poisoning is proportional to time of exposure
    It would be particularly desirable to evacuate in the face of a radiological attack. Even in a sealed room, radioactive materials accumulating on the roof of a house would irradiate whatever was below the roof. By the same token, brief exposure to moderate levels of radioactive materials, followed by washing off with soap and water, and drinking plenty of water, might help someone escape from a contaminated area.
    Showering with strong soap and water, and washing one's hands with a strong soap (Fels Naphtha?) will help to remove radioactive contaminants.

    9/11 was a rabbit punch, an unexpected sneak attack upon an unsuspecting U. S.
There Will Be, at Most, 20 to 30 Attacks, and They Will Be Essentially Simultaneous
    There probably wouldn't be more than 20 to 30 simultaneous terrorist attempts on the U. S. These attacks will probably take place simultaneously because once they happen, the U. S. will be highly aroused.
The areas involved will be small
    The areas of dispersal for each such attack would be, at most, a few square miles. These are out of about three million square miles in the United States. However, some locations would be much more likely candidates than others.
    The number one target for a terrorist attack would be the District of Columbia, for both symbolic and utilitarian reasons. Two of the four hijacked planes on 9/11 were sent there to attack the Pentagon, and either the White House or the Capitol Building.
    The number two target for a terrorist attack would be New York City.
    Additional likely target cities might be San Francisco, Chicago, Atlanta, Boston, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Dallas, Ft. Worth, St. Louis, Miami, San Diego, Baltimore, Houston, Phoenix and Tucson. Texas might be a particularly tempting target, since it's George W. Bush' home state. 
    Additional targets of opportunity might be bridges, tunnels, and landmarks like the Golden Gate Bridge, the Brooklyn Bridge, the Sears Tower, the St. Louis Gateway and the Seattle Needle. Of course, a host other such "choke points" could also be targeted.
    One or two attacks might be made on minor targets just to say, "Nobody's safe!"
    If you live in a rural area or a small town remote from a city, you can probably forget about terrorist attacks (unless you're immediately downwind from a city). No one's going to waste resources on rural locations.
    Some terrorist attempts may be intercepted by a wary public and alerted law-enforcement agencies..
    Poisoning of water supplies or food processing plants would be one way to assault an unsuspecting public.
    The defense against this would be to drink previously stored water and canned food. Of course, bottled water and canned food could also be poisoned, but chances are that someone would show up poisoned by it before you did. 
    From a terrorist's point of view, it would be hard to control the timing of such a vehicle.
Biological, poison gas or radiological attacks
    Biological, poison gas or radiological attacks would seem to me to be most effective in enclosed areas densely packed with people such as enclosed shopping malls, subways, tunnels, theaters, hospitals, large hotels, large office buildings, etc.
    Biological warfare might take the form of someone with smallpox circulating throughout a crowded area, leaving behind an invisible spoor of infection that wouldn't surface for days.
    Smallpox might be somewhat less attractive now that the U. S. has a full supply of smallpox vaccine to inoculate its citizens. (If you're vaccinated after infection but before symptoms occur, you'll probably be immune.)
    Other types of infection such as hemorrhagic fever and anthrax aren't easily contagious, and can be averted by good hygienic practices. Of course, anthrax can be spread through the air. 
    The most likely venues for infection would be enclosed volumes.
    Infection could be an ideal weapon because it's deployment wouldn't be detected until it's too late.
Preparing for Terrorist Attacks
    This brings us to duct tape and polyethylene sheeting. The only situation in this would be meaningful would be one in which an attack were launched in the open air, typically to the west of you (or northwest or southwest, depending upon the direction of the wind). If it were a chemical or radiological attack, it would take quite a load of poison gas, anthrax spores or radiological contaminants to cover much area. The area covered would depend upon direction and speed of the wind. Typically, the ground footprint would be an ellipse no more than a few miles downwind, by perhaps, a mile crosswind.
    If you live west of a city, you probably wouldn't be affected by such an onslaught, since most of the time, the wind is blowing from west to east.
    If an outdoor attack were to occur, it would probably take the form of a LOUD BOOM. If you were significantly upwind from the epicenter of the blast, or were perpendicular to the wind, and if you were a mile or more away, you probably wouldn't have to worry immediately about toxins dispersed by the blast. If you were downwind from the blast,  you would only have a few minutes, depending upon the distance to the site of the explosion and the wind speed, to either try to evacuate, or to seal yourself into your home.
    One of the questions would be: would terrorists launch an attack on a windless day, hoping that their cloud would stick around, or would they choose a windy day, with the idea of covering more ground?
    The "footprint" of a chemical, biological or nuclear attack won't be very large.

    A more effective way to launch a chemical or radiological attack would be to bomb a toxic-chemical factory or a nuclear power plant. These would be equivalent to industrial accidents that would unleash the deadly brews contained by these dangerous installations. This might be attractive to terrorists, since the terrorists wouldn't have to furnish their own toxic materials.
    Very large liquid-propane tanks could also be targets for attack.
    Such attacks might take the form of trucks loaded with explosives, or of private aircraft diving into their prey.
    Presumably, even the smallest airstrips are being monitored for potential attackers.
Run, or hide?
    There are advantages and disadvantages to running. If you run, and you can get far enough fast enough, you'll assuredly be safe (unless there's a later attack on the place to which you're running).
The bad news
    The biggest problem with running is that the roads can't handle a mass evacuation in less than hours. This could lead to gridlock, in which people are trapped in traffic while a deadly cloud catches up with them. Among some of the problems would be some measure of panic among motorists. Motorists might not stop for red lights"*. Merging with traffic might be difficult because it would be bumper-to-bumper, with no one slowing down to let a motorist accelerate to road speed. (You would have to accelerate along the berm and try to get someone to let you in.) There would be virtually no chance of crossing a main traffic artery. Within cities, all outbound roads and most outbound streets might be choked with creeping motorists. An accident would hopelessly snarl traffic.
* - In February, 1982, my wife and I were in downtown Birmingham when a sudden snowstorm hit. We couldn't leave right away, and by the time we did, it was too late. Every road out of town was choked with stop-and-start, bumper-to-bumper traffic. No one was paying attention to traffic lights, since people were trapped under them when the lights changed. We were unable to get across the main arteries that were leading out of town because of the bumper-to-bumper traffic that was ignoring traffic lights. It taught me what to expect in the event of a mass evacuation of a city.
Practicality of evacuations
    To get an idea about how rapidly an evacuation might occur, suppose that traffic were traveling at about 100 feet per second 68 miles per hour or 109 kms per hour). If we assume 50 feet per car, and two outbound lanes, a road could handle 240 cars a minute or.28,800 cars in an hour. If we only had two minutes to get on the road, it's clear that not many cars would be able to make it. Furthermore, the farther one went, the more cars would crowd onto the highway (since they'd have more time to hear the news and to get to the highway). Some drivers would be driving at reckless speeds to get ahead of the pack, or simply out of blind panic.
The good news
    On the other hand, you wouldn't have to go very far cross-wind to get out of the cigar-shaped footprint of the danger zone. Running north or south a few miles on city streets should do the trick (since the wind will probably be blowing from the west, or the northwest, or the southwest). 
Chemical Weapons
    Poison gas would disperse rapidly.

Living without oil