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by Gary Showalter

8:00 a.m. January 15, 2001 PDT

This will not be an enjoyable article—it will, in fact, disturb each and every reader as it deals with your life or death, and that of your family and friends.

[Author's note: This article, and its companion, Strategic Terror Attacks in the US, is deliberately general in nature. Authors of such articles run the risk of providing information or methods to the enemy, and that is not something this author is willing to do. However, within the parameters of what the enemy is understood to know, and what the author feels comfortable with publishing, every attempt has been made to provide the reader with solid, verifiable and useful information.]

National Guard; AP photoSINCE THE WTC/PENTAGON attacks, many internet newsgroups have seen numerous emails containing suggestions for increasing personal security, expressions of sorrow over the dead and wounded in the attacks and condemnations over the misdirected revenge attacks against Sikhs and other dark-skinned people.

This article is written in response to those emails.

The subject of terror attacks can be broken down into two types. The first is an attack against strategic targets such as dams, national monuments, tank farms, Air Force bases (Heavy Lifters parked on a flight line are very attractive targets), and chemical and biological warfare attacks against population centers, food production areas (cattle, sheep, chicken, wheat, corn and soybean fields, and so on) and fresh-water reservoirs and aqueducts. The second concerns attacks against tactical targets, such as hospitals, schools, malls and movie theaters.

In this article we will deal only with the second type of attack.

This will not be an enjoyable article. It will, in fact, disturb each and every reader. That is simply the nature of the subject. This article deals with your life, or death, and that of your family and friends.

The author has lived in Israel for twenty years and has been involved in security issues for most of that time. Israel is a country that has been in a constant state of low-level warfare for over seventy years, and has experienced daily attacks that have resulted in large numbers of casualties.

These attacks come in the form of drive-by shootings, walk-in suicide bombers, package bombs, knife attacks, stone throwing and Molotov cocktails, mortar attacks and sniper attacks. The targets for these attacks have been school children, mothers, the elderly, teachers, employers in their places of work, military and police personnel, schools and day-care centers, youth clubs and cars and trucks on the highways. In other words, no one, no place, is safe. Everyone is a potential victim, every place a potential trap. Remember that.

In this article we will first discuss many of the different types of tactical terror attacks. This will be followed by a section devoted to what you as an individual can and should do should you suspect that such an attack is imminent. The third section of the article will contain the authors closing comments.


Tactical targets are hospitals, schools, libraries, day-care centers, malls, theaters, fuel tankers in parking lots and gas stations, hotel lobbies, truck stops on the superhighways, shopping centers, pizza parlors, busses filled with travelers, cars on the roads, pedestrians in crowded crosswalks, banks filled with customers, crowded churches, football and baseball stadiums and so on. Any place people congregate should be considered a target.

Security in such areas will almost always be minimal, due to budget concerns and inadequate training, and the press of people in these areas. The list of targets for such attacks is not limited to major cities. A Dairy Queen in Ardmore, Oklahoma is just as likely a target as The Peachtree Plaza in downtown Atlanta, Georgia.

Walk-in suicide attacks
Attacks on tactical targets can be carried out by one man wearing a belt (or carrying a package, knapsack or carry-all) fitted with dynamite covered in wax containing nails, nuts and bolts to increase the lethality of the explosion. Once he chooses his location, closing a switch in his pocket sets off the charge. His target will be any place with easy, open access, such as school entrances in the early morning when students cluster at the entrances to pass through the metal detectors, school grounds during recess, mall entrances, pizza parlors, entrances to movie theaters when movie-goers gather around the ticket booths, crowded intersections as pedestrians wait to cross, and so on.

Package bombs
Alternatively, a departing passenger can leave an innocuous package on a bus. He then sets off the charge by calling the cell phone in the package. In Israel, package bombs have been found in loaves of bread, cans of coffee on store shelves, in boxes of popcorn left behind in movie theaters, in bags of groceries forgotten on a bus.

Car bombs
One of the more successful types of attacks Israel has dealt with in the last several years since the Oslo Agreement allowed for the entry of trained bomb makers into the PA territories is the car bomb. The more common type of car bomb is a vehicle parked in an area where many pedestrians frequent—either alongside an open-air café, near the entrance to a movie theater, the entrance to a popular shopping center, and so on. The explosive will be set off by calling the cell phone activator when a large crowd of people is in the vicinity of the vehicle. This means, of course, that the terrorist is also in the same area, since he must be able to determine when to call the cell phone attached to the explosive device. Again, it is almost a certainty that there will be a second explosive device very close by, to be set off on command when the emergency response crews arrive in the area.

A second type of car bomb is that in which the vehicle is under the immediate control of a driver (usually with a companion to give support and encouragement). This vehicle will drive into a target area, approach a large crowd of people (even drive alongside a crowded city bus) at which point the driver (or his companion) will manually set off the explosives. It can be expected that such a car bomb will attempt to drive into a crowded shopping center or restaurant, even if that means driving right through the plate glass doors to get as close to the crowd as possible.

These car bombs will always be prepared with large amounts of nails, bolts, pieces of metal and ball bearings bedded into the explosive (along with one or more cylinders of cooking gas) to increase the lethality of the explosion. Injuries for all such types of explosions will range from blast trauma and first-degree burns in persons within a meter or two of the explosion to shrapnel injuries and shock further out at the periphery of the blast area.

Roadside bombs
The explosive material may be hidden within a cardboard box set along the verge of the road, a mock boulder (made from fiberglass and painted to look natural), a vehicle set up to look as if it had broken down, complete with a red triangle set behind the vehicle. The explosion will be set off by radio signal or a simple pull-cord from a few dozen meters away when a good target drives by. The target may be a loaded fuel tanker, a school bus or a hazardous materials transporter. With this type of attack, the perpetrator has a great chance of escaping, since in most cases he will be able to exit the area to meet a companion in a vehicle parked on a side street or firebreak.

The open surface-level road systems in the United States are prime areas for roadside bombs, and this type of attack must be considered as extremely likely. Highway patrol departments must be trained in safe procedures for checking out possible "roadside bombs."

Follow-on explosions
Once such an attack occurs, the local police will take control of the area of the attack, and, if they are properly trained, they will first examine the area for the presence of a second explosive device. If they are not properly trained, the second device will explode about the same time (ten to fifteen minutes after the first blast) the emergency medical teams arrive to begin treating the wounded. The reason for the second device should now be clear. It is meant to kill and injure the bystanders, the police and the medical teams.

Drive-by shootings
This type of attack is endemic in Israel today, thanks to the close proximity of the PA territories to the Israeli population centers. This close proximity allows the terrorists to drive out (in a stolen vehicle, of course) of the PA "safe haven" onto an Israeli road, pull up alongside an Israeli vehicle and open fire with one or more automatic weapons, killing or wounding the driver and passengers. Any vehicle is a potential target, but the favorite targets are vans and busses carrying teachers, office workers and school children. Today, bulletproof materials now protect many of these vehicles, but only up to 7.62 caliber, which leaves them susceptible to penetration by .50-caliber sniper fire.

It is not expected that the US will see many such attacks since there are very few areas the terrorists could consider "safe havens" for them to escape into. This creates a real problem for the attackers, since their physical characteristics will not allow them to disappear into the general population with any degree of confidence. However, it is not impossible that a way will be found to guarantee them some sort of protection, so this type of attack cannot be ignored.

Again, for these types of attacks, the preferred targets will be school busses, city busses, vans transporting workers, police and so on. Ambulances carrying wounded will also be prime targets for drive-by shootings.

Tactical terror attacks have several goals. The first goal is simply to kill and injure as many civilians as possible. But along with this, such attacks provide additional media coverage of bloody events, which will weaken the willingness of the people to support the government's pursuit of the war. Even more, such attacks bring people face-to-face with their fears, and fear is contagious. These terror attacks will reduce the number of people who are willing to venture out of their homes after work. This can quickly affect the local economy, since fewer and fewer people will risk venturing out for entertainment, whether it be for dinner and a movie, a new CD at the music store or a quick burger at the local Macdonald's.

Tactical terror attacks can quickly fragment a society by breeding distrust of strangers (which is a good thing in some cases, since it will be strangers who perpetrate such attacks). This can lead to vigilante action, which is not a good thing in any case, since it destroys the rule of law, which is one of the prime goals of such attacks. Vigilantism must be put down as quickly as possible, and every effort made to strengthen the police and security agencies with additional personnel and training.


Learn to be aware
The most practical deterrent to terror attacks is awareness. Quite simply, this means keeping your eyes and ears open to what is going on around you. Who is approaching you, who is moving away, what activity does not "fit in" with your surroundings, what objects do not "belong" where they are. You cannot be aware of your surroundings if you have your face in a book or if you are so wrapped up in a conversation that you loose all awareness of your surroundings. Do not allow yourself or your family to enter a state of denial about the new reality you face.

You cannot protect yourself if you deny the existence of the threat.

Look around you. Look at what is going on around you. The fact that you are aware of what is going on will be noticed by an attacker, and may convince him to find another target. Get involved in your surroundings.

If you do see someone wearing a long or bulky coat during the summer, trying move into the middle of a crowd, your senses should tell you right away that something is not right with this picture. Find a cop and point out the individual to him, or use your cell phone to dial 911 and report your suspicions. It is far better to be wrong a dozen times than right once, and not make the call, only to see the explosion and hear the cries of the dying and wounded.

If you do see a suspicious package unattended on a crowded bus, notify the bus deriver immediately so he can stop the bus and order the passengers off. If you find a package lying on a park bench with a group of school kids approaching, warn them away and call a cop immediately. Again, in all such cases, it is far better to be wrong than to spend the rest of your life knowing you could have done something to prevent the horror, but were just too afraid to act out of a fear of being wrong.

Take responsibility for your own life and that of your family and friends. Your awareness is very likely going to save your life, and that of your family. This is not something that you can, or should, leave to someone else to do for you. You can no longer afford the luxury of giving up your responsibility for your personal security (and that of your family and friends) to the local police, the FBI and the US Army. They won't be there when the bomb goes off. If they are, they will be found among the victims, right along with you.

The above statement is not a call for vigilantism, nor is it a call to ignore the rule of law, or the agencies that provide protection and security to the people of America. However, you, as an individual, must take upon yourself far more responsibility for your immediate security and that of your family. The police cannot be in every place at every minute.


Civil Guard Units
Civil Guard units (both vehicular and foot patrols) be set up to work with the local police in every city, town and village to supplement their patrols, which will allow the more thoroughly trained police personnel to respond more quickly to emergency calls.

These Civil Guard units should be under the control of the local police department, and their areas of patrol controlled by the department. They should be equipped with powerful flashlights, along walky-talkies to communicate with the police department, and carbines and pistols (after, of course, going through a weapons training course at the police academy), and be well trained in emergency first aid procedures. Each Civil Guard unit should be composed of two or more volunteers working in close coordination with the local patrol sergeant.

Security guards and fences
Malls, shopping centers, schools, day-care centers and so on should all have security guards at each exit to scan the people entering and leaving, and any bags—including ladies handbags, should be opened and checked for weapons and explosives. Schools and daycare centers should have strong fencing all around, with large, heavy cement blocks along the curbs to prevent vehicles from crashing through the fence and exploding among a group of children. Imagine the horror, and the rage, such an event will generate. Imagine the backlash were a group of very angry people to begin to riot and kill anyone who doesn't look like them. Imagine what would happen if such an attack were to take place in two or three locations in the same city.

Each time this happens—and it may be expected to happen more than once over the next few years—the media will produce a field day of blood and gore, reaction news ("Gee, Mrs. Smith, how did you feel when you saw the bodies flying apart?"), the security agencies will work to further restrict the free movement of people and goods throughout the country, the open and welcoming attitude of the American people will disappear, and the easy-going, trusting culture of America will disappear.

Small towns, villages and suburban areas are equally at risk of terror attacks as are the larger cities, perhaps even more so. They have little in the way of manpower to react to emergencies, and very small budgets to invest in infrastructure for their communications, fire, police and emergency medical services. Every effort should be made to increase the training and equipping of the small-town police, fire departments and EMS teams. Hospitals and clinics that serve the small towns should be prepared to deal with large numbers of casualties suffering from blast trauma and shrapnel wounds, gun shots and exposure to hazardous materials.

Simulations which include the police and emergency response teams in small towns and their neighboring larger cities should be run, including testing the response time required to move ERT's to the most likely outlying sites, triage on "victims" suffering multiple types of wounds, and evacuating them to local hospitals for follow-on treatment in the emergency wards. Such training should also include the notification of the next-of-kin, securing the incident area and the initial stages of the investigation by police and FBI. These simulations should take place across the country and should be carried out frequently with as much "reality" as possible.

The Social Services department in each State must provide one of the more important functions of an Emergency Response Team. ERT must be able to deal with the immediate aftermath of a terror attack, including providing comfort and psychological treatment to the families of victims, ensuring that the appropriate religious personnel are contacted and brought in to provide comfort and counsel to both victims and their families. In almost every case of a bomb attack, and in many cases of shooting attacks, there will be children involved. They will be either among the wounded or the dead, or left orphaned.

The Social Services agencies must be prepared for events such as these. They must have access to psychological counseling, both to prepare them to deal with such horrors, as well as for the children who are traumatized by the attacks, and for their parents, who will have to learn to cope with the life-long pain of maimed and scarred children (physically and psychologically). As important is the need to deal with children who are orphaned by such attacks. Family members will have to be found and provided with financial support that will allow them to take on the burden of raising these children, as well as being provided with the long-term counseling that will be necessary for them and for the children.

HAZMAT (Hazardous Materials) teams all across the US must be expanded, with the ability to handle multiple incidents several times each week without depleting their resources. It must be understood that the HAZMAT attacks will not be restricted to the large cities and towns where such teams are stationed, but will also occur in the more open areas of the country, either within or very close to small towns and interstate interchanges.

The same is true for bomb squads, which are today only to be found in the larger cities, which have budgets capable of supporting such teams. However, in today’s new equation, numbers of bomb squads should be set up within each State and attached to regional police and highway patrol headquarters so that they can respond to calls from the smaller towns and villages within a matter of minutes.

All security agencies, especially those in small towns and isolated villages, should receive immediate training in identifying package bombs, walk-in suicide bombers and "parked car bombs," as well as in procedures to close off suspected areas while the bomb squads are in transit to the area.


Sadly, there is little an individual can do to protect himself or his family from the types of attacks the author describes. That is why the terrorists design their attacks as they do. These men and women are not fools or idiots; even though their mind-set is so alien to the Western mind they might as well be Klingons.

Nowhere in the article has the author recommended the purchase of handguns or rifles, since these are of very little use in the sort of attacks the terrorists will use. The author carries an S&W .44-magnum revolver, with fifty rounds in speed loaders at all times, and has in his home an army-issue Uzzi with four full magazines. However, none of this hardware will do any good against a car bomb, a package bomb, or a drive-by shooting.

The only real defense against such attacks is constant awareness of your surroundings, as the author describes above, and well-trained and well-motivated Emergency Response Teams.

Trust in the ability of the government at all levels will evaporate if it begins to appear that the security agencies—local and State police, the FBI and so on, are incapable of preventing these attacks. But what must be remembered is that the security agencies do stop most of the attacks, even though you may not be aware of them at the time, or even hear of the arrest and detention of the attackers. The main goal of all of these attacks is the destruction of the American society and culture.

As important to the well being of the communities affected by such attacks is the reaction of the community itself. It is the goal of the terrorists to fragment the communities and eventually to destroy the very fabric of American society. The only way to ensure this does not occur is for the community leaders, including the religious leaders, to plan together, in advance, how they will work to rebuild the community following an attack. This must include community-wide visits to the wounded in the hospitals, visits to the bereaved families following each death and the escorting of the dead to their graves. It does not matter what the cultural background of each victim might be, or his or her (or their) race or creed or economic status. The entire community must come together, to mourn, to comfort, and to rebuild.

To fail to do so will ensure the fragmentation of the community and the inevitable destruction of the United States.

Gary Showalter is a novelist and independent journalist, specializing in political issues surrounding the Middle East. Recent articles by the author include:
Strategic Terror Attacks in the US
The Misunderstood Object of War
Peeling the Onion
The Long View
A Rumor of Democracy

Article copyright © Gary Showalter; all rights reserved
related resources

| r e a d i n g |

Combating Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear Terrorism: A Comprehensive Strategy (A Report of the Csis Homeland Defense Project); Frank J. Cilluffo, Sharon L. Cardash, Gordon Nathaniel Lederman; ISBN: 0892063890

Terrorism, Asymmetric Warfare, and Weapons of Mass Destruction: Defending the U.S. Homeland; Anthony H. Cordesman; ISBN: 0275974278

How Did This Happen? Terrorism and the New War; Gideon Rose, James F. Hoge Jr.; ISBN: 1586481304

The Age of Terror: America and the World After September 11; Strobe Talbot, Nayan Chanda ; ISBN: 0465083560

Terrorism, Asymmetric Warfare, and Weapons of Mass Destruction: Defending the U.S. Homeland; Anthony H. Cordesman; ISBN: 0275974278

Insurgency & Terrorism: Inside Modern Revolutionary Warfare; Bard E. O'Neill, Edward C. Meyer; ISBN: 1574883356

What Went Wrong: Western Impact and Middle Eastern Response; Bernard Lewis; ISBN: 0195144201

Scourge: The Once and Future Threat of Smallpox; Jonathan B. Tucker; ISBN: 0871138301

The New Face of Terrorism: Threats from Weapons of Mass Destruction; Nadine Gurr, Benjamin Cole; ISBN: 1860644600

Holy War, Inc.: Inside The Secret World of Osama Bin Laden; Peter L. Bergen; ISBN: 0743205022

From Time Immemorial: The Origins of the Arab-Jewish Conflict over Palestine; Joan Peters; ISBN: 0963624202

Terror in the Mind of God: The Global Rise of Religious Violence (Comparative Studies in Religion and Society); Mark Juergensmeyer; ISBN: 0520223012

Economic Sanctions and American Diplomacy; Richard Haass, Council on Foreign Relations; ISBN: 0876092121

Terrorism and U.S. Foreign Policy ; Paul R. Pillar, Michael H. Armacost; ISBN: 0815700040

Insurgency & Terrorism: Inside Modern Revolutionary Warfare;Bard E. O'Neill, Edward C. Meyer; ISBN: 1574883356

The Ultimate Terrorists; Jessica Stern; ISBN: 0674617908

The New Jackals: Ramzi Yousef, Osama bin Laden and the Future of Terrorism; Simon Reeve; ISBN: 1555534074

| u s e n e tg r o u p s |













| w e b s i t e s |

National Security Agency

Office of Homeland Security (White House)

Subcommittee on Terrorism and Homeland Security (US Gov)

Defense Technical Information Center (US Dept of Defense)

DefenseLINK (Official Website of the US Dept of Defense)

GAO Reports: Homeland Security (US General Accounting Office)

US Immigration & Naturalization Service (USINS INS)

Jane's Information Group

Jane's Regional Security Digest

Homeland Security and Defense (Business Week publication)

Center for Security Policy

ANSER Institute for Homeland Security

Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe

Center For Strategic & International Studies

Regional Centre for Strategic Studies

The Henry L. Stimson Center

Adm. Blair on Regional Security, Fight Against Terrorism (US Dept of State)

The Army and Homeland Security: A Strategic Perspective... (US Army War College)

(*see our resource directory for add'l resources)

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