Once an afterthought, terrorism is now at the forefront of preparedness
“It wasn’t international terrorism, but it still terrorized,” said Alex Vega a 22-year-old student at the University of Colorado Denver in reference to the shooting in a movie theater in Aurora that claimed 12 lives and left 70 with shooting-related wounds. “I don’t know if they call it terrorism per se, but if Timothy McVeigh was a terrorist, so is James Holmes.”
Of the possible disasters Coloradans need to be prepared for, terrorism is the most difficult to assess and most difficult to predict.
“Past terrorist attacks have left many concerned about the possibility of future incidents of terrorism in the United States,” according to READYColorado, the official state of Colorado preparedness website. “Terrorist operations usually begin with extensive planning and can happen anytime, anywhere.”
It’s the volatile nature of terrorism that requires being alert at all times. It’s alertness that has stopped terrorist threats since Sept. 11, 2001, including a threat that hit close to home.
“This was one of the most serious terrorist threats to our nation since Sept. 11, 2001, and were it not for the combined efforts of the law enforcement and intelligence communities, it could have been devastating,” said Attorney General Eric Holder in a 2010 release following former Denver resident Najibullah Zazi’s guilty plea to conspiracy to use explosives against persons or property in the U.S.
The Zazi case garnered national attention due to the planned attack included the New York City subway system, but local attention as well, because Zazi resided, worked and purchased his bomb-making supplies in the Denver metro area.
“I don’t think that means we need to look sideways at every Middle-Easterner or Afghani,” Vega said of Zazi, a citizen of Afghanistan. “But I think we do owe it to ourselves and our country to look for all suspicious activities. Like, you know, purchasing an arsenal of guns and ammo in the span of four months.”
Terrorism preparedness isn’t new, but it also isn’t easy. Nationally, residents in the United States are urged to participate in the “See Something, Say Something!” public awareness campaign that emphasizes the importance of reporting suspicious activity to the proper authorities.
The campaign comes with a strict disclaimer: “Factors such as race, ethnicity, national origin or religious affiliation alone are not suspicious.”
Since actually witnessing a terrorist attack before it happens is far less likely than dealing with the aftermath of an attack, the Colorado Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management recommends people prepare themselves for post-attack factors like the presence of law enforcement, extensive media coverage, workplace and school closures, restrictions on travel, lengthy cleanup and possible psychological effects.
“I’d add to that list a safe house and food storage for at least 72 hours,” said Steve Larsen a Colorado Safety Educator in Littleton. “You have to prepare for terrorism like you would any other natural disaster, which means you have to be prepared for the worst, including not having access to food or water for three days without proper food storage.”
Larsen added that in the case of terrorism pre-planning is complicated.
“You don’t get the same kind of warning with terrorism as you do with natural disasters,” he said. “There’s no forecast, no advisories, it’s just one minute all is well, the next it’s chaos.”
There are ways, however, to remain alert prior to a terrorist attack.
According to READYColorado there are eight signs of terrorism: surveillance, elicitation, tests of security, funding, supplies, impersonation, rehearsal and deployment.
“Those things are great, but very few people have the time gather intelligence on their neighbor if they suspect them of something suspicious,” Larsen said. “And if they are gathering intelligence on their neighbor, they’re actually the ones breaking the law, not the neighbor.”
For more information on what to do before, during or after a terrorist attack visit www.readycolorado.com/hazard/terrorism.