New Yorker's Guide to Terrorism Preparedness and Response: Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear


The attacks of September 11, 2001 taught three important lessons about international terrorists: 1) They stop at nothing. No act of violence is too terrible for them to contemplate and no weapon is too horrible for them to use. 2) They like the dramatic. They did the unthinkable by turning passenger jets into missiles and attacking some of the best-known buildings in the world. 3) They intend mass casualties. They selected targets that were not only prestigious but also heavily populated.

The events of September 11th also taught another vital lesson that is, the importance of information and preparedness. If New Yorkers knew then what they know now, many more lives would have been spared. But who was to know that terrorists were planning to attack us?

Today we do not lack for information about the nature of the terrorist threat. We know, for example, that terrorists are seeking to acquire weapons of mass destruction (WMD) i.e., chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear and, if successful, might attempt to use them against the United States.1 We also know, from the cases of anthrax caused by contaminated mail in 2001, the risks and effects of the intentional use of biological agents as weapons of fear.

It is not the purpose of this guide to assess the credibility of any specific terrorism threat; that is best left to those defense and intelligence experts who possess the relevant knowledge and expertise. Our aim instead is health-related: to educate the public about the health hazards of these weapons and to offer suggestions as to how New Yorkers might protect themselves.

Facts often mitigate fear. Therefore, in the course of this discussion, we separate myths from realities as to the different chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear weapons and distinguish between real and imagined risks. It is with such knowledge and information that people can elect prudence over paranoia. We also offer guidance on such questions as to whether or not individuals should receive the smallpox vaccination. Our hope is that this guide will help New Yorkers make informed choices about their health and safety in light of potential terrorist dangers.

Table of Contents Introduction

Weapons of Mass Destruction

Methods of Attack

Chemical Agents

Blister (or Vesicant) Agents
Blood Agents
Choking (Lung or Pulmonary) Agents
Nerve Agents

Biological Agents

Category A Diseases

Viral Hemorrhagic Fevers

Food- and Waterborne Illness

Escherichia coli
Typhoid Fever

Radiological and Nuclear Threats

Radioactivity and Radiation Exposure
Radiological Contamination
"Dirty Bombs"
Small Nuclear Devices

Dealing with WMD Emergencies

Chemical/Biological Emergencies
Radiological/Nuclear Emergencies
Sheltering in Place

Indications of a WMD Attack

Personal Counter-Terrorism Precautions: Facts Vs. Myths

Hand Hygiene
Mail Handling
Protective Masks
Potassium Iodide (KI)
Flu Shots
Emergency Supplies Kit
Family Emergency Planning

Should You Get the Smallpox Vaccine?

Psychological Preparedness and Response

Psychological Reactions to Stressful Events
Management of Fears: Known and Unknown
Maintaining an Appropriate Perspective

Public Policy Recommendations

Contact Information

Chemical/Biological Information
Nuclear/Radiation Information

Appendix A (Chemical Agents)

Appendix B (Biological Agents)

Appendix C (Chemical Terrorism Preparedness)



Related Links
The Facts About Dirty Bombs
A Citizen's Guide to Terrorism Preparedness and Response