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Immediately following a natural or manmade disaster there are several questions responders must ask in order to minimize the negative impacts of the event and to prevent further injury or loss of life. Many of the questions emergency managers and responders must address following an incident are applicable to most disasters. However, incidents involving the suspected act of terrorism demand additional questions be answered. Danial Byman, an author for the Brookings Institute, wrote an article titled, 9 questions to ask after a terrorist attack, that offers several critical questions that must be answered in the moments and hours following an attack. Of his nine suggested questions, I believe the most critical to analyzing and learning key take-aways are: Is there a foreign link? As well as, what mistakes did government officials make? (2017).
Questioning wither or not there is a foreign link to the terrorist attack will help to properly establish and guide the investigation effort. If the perpetrator was foreign or receiving foreign aid, this could indicate a greater probability of accomplices and secondary attacks. This would indicate a larger breach to the nation’s security, and could help responders gather critical intelligence as to possible motive and means of attack. For instance if a terrorist bombing were to occur at an airport, and the perpetrator is later identified as a member of the foreign terrorist group AUM Shinrikyo (AUM), then authorities might be able to make several deductions from this information. For instance, based off of AUM’s past attacks, they could suspect that if a secondary attack were to follow it would likely be in the form of a chemical attack such as Sarin gas (Tu, 2014). It is likely the attack would occur in a densely populated, indoor area where a dispersion device would be most effective. Knowing that the perpetrator has ties to foreign terrorist group would potentially provide insight into the amount of funding, tools, weapons, and training the perpetrator had or has at their disposal. Some terrorist organizations are better funded and able to move assets across boarders easier than others.
Some of the most significant improvements the U. S. has made in regards to Emergency Response and Homeland Security have been the result of lessons learned following tragedy. Incidents such as the terrorist attacks on 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina identified all kinds of issues and fail points in our planning and response efforts. Following a terrorist attack law enforcement and National Security Officials must thoroughly examine the life cycle of the attack from its earliest stages to the incident as well as the response effort. Looking back, they must seek out areas and opportunities that could have prevented or reduced the effectiveness of the attack. They must make changes to policy and procedure when necessary. As terrorist strategy and tactics evolve, policy must also evolve in order to improve our counterterrorism practices.
I believe Byman overlooked a critical question when writing his article. If I were to add a tenth question to his list, it would be; why was this target selected? Immediately following an attack it can be unclear if an incident was an accident, personal violence, or an act of terrorism. Assessing the target or victims, will help to answer the question. Assessing the target can also predict future attacks. For example we examined the domestic terrorist group from the 70’s the Weather Underground, who had strong discontent with the U.S. Government and primarily targeted government facilities and property. Although they were very open about their intent, one could have predicted a pattern very quickly even if they had not been. If a terrorist organization is not immediately vocal about their cause and motive, assessing the target can provide critical insight.
Using the three critical questions I discussed in this post, I believe authorities will be able to effectively respond to the incident and predict future consequences. These questions should be able to steer the investigation and provide insight into the mind of the terrorist. Finally these questions will allow authorities to identify areas of weakness and improve upon those areas. If handled properly the response effort should lead directly into the recovery stage and improve the nation’s security.