Friday, November 20, 2009

Terrorist Threat Level

I just checked the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Advisory System to see what the current threat level is. On this particular day the nation is at Yellow (Elevated — significant risk of terrorist attacks), and the airlines for all domestic and international flights are at Orange (High — high risk of terrorist attacks).

You can interpret that any way you want to, but take note that the word "terrorist" resides at the core of this advisory system. Terrorism is the key word. The way the government defines 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."

Acts of terrorism include all types of mayhem ranging from individual assassinations to mass murder. And in between are such evil acts as kidnapping, hijacking, bomb scares and actual bombings, cyber attacks, and the use of chemical, biological  and nuclear or radiological weapons.

Even just voicing the threat of terrorism is consider an act of terrorism. In fact, the threat without the actual fulfillment of the act is one of the most efficient and effective ways to disrupt society through fear and intimidation. The U.S. is experiencing that type of ongoing terrorism right now, and has been ever since 9/11/01.

All it takes for terrorists to succeed is the creation of fear sufficient to force us to change our routines. Often, a single violent act, followed up by threats of more of the same, will cause us to change the rules of society, imposing new restrictions, enlarging government bureaucracy, disrupting the freedom that has made America the envy of the world — and the bad guys win without even lifting another finger.

For the record, terrorists don't always strap bombs around their waist or fly commercial airplanes into skyscrapers. Targets can be wide-ranging and include the food and water supply, places of public gathering (sporting events, amusement parks, concert halls, etc.), utilities, government services, transportation corridors, etc.

As citizens, we watch the threat level go up and then come down, never knowing for sure what caused that to happen. We can't see what's going on behind the scenes. After a while, it's easy for this routine to become a case of "the boy who cried wolf," and we become complacent. However, when the threat level goes up, we should never assume that there isn't an actual risk, just because nothing happened the last time the level was up. What we need to do is follow these safety guidelines:
  • Be vigilant and take notice of what's happening in your surroundings. 
  • Get out of the area if you feel uncomfortable or something doesn't seem right.
  • Take precautions when traveling — Be aware of conspicuous or unusual behavior. Never leave your luggage unattended, and report to security personnel any unusual behavior you witness, or any suspicious or unattended packages or strange devices that you see.
  • Always be aware of the location of emergency exits from buildings or arenas, and constantly run a scenario in your head about how you would get out in an emergency.
  • Be prepared to live without normal services such as electricity, water, natural gas, telephone, gasoline stations, cash registers, ATMs, internet, medical facilities, grocery stores, restaurants, public bathroom facilities, police, fire and ambulance services, transportation, television, radio. 
Make sure your emergency preparedness kit is fully stocked (see my post made on september 30th about 72-hour kits) and update your emergency response plan to suit any changes in life, such as a new job, new residence, different commute arrangements, etc.

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