is WMD, and why should I be worried about it?
Captain Philip H. East, NREMT-P
This is a question
that fire departments, rescue squads, first aid crews, EMS agencies, and
emergency managers across the country are asking themselves after 9/11.
But should this be a new question? Many jurisdictions are trying
to play catch up in their response, some are well into the process, but
no one can fully be prepared for a WMD event.
The legal definition
of a ''Weapon of Mass Destruction'' is from Title 18 of the United States
Code, Part I, Chapter 113B, Section 2332 (A) any destructive device as
defined in section 921 of this title; (B) any weapon that is designed or
intended to cause death or serious bodily injury through the release, dissemination,
or impact of toxic or poisonous chemicals, or their precursors; (C) any
weapon involving a disease organism; or (D) any weapon that is designed
to release radiation or radioactivity at a level dangerous to human life.
The working definition
of a Weapon of Mass Destruction is a substance, material or device, that
is used by a terrorist organization to cause mass casualties, great damage
to buildings or infrastructure, chaos in government and/or many other items
to create havoc in our communities. WMDís may be built strictly for
that purpose, such as a nuclear detonation device or a chemical dissemination
sprayer. Or they may be an improvised device, such as an explosive
strapped to a chemical container, or a jumbo jet flown into a skyscraper.
The result is the same with either such situation. Mass hysteria,
multiple casualties, and LOTS of media attention.
There are myriad
reasons why a terrorist would use a WMD, but for the first responder motive
plays a very minor role in the response. The user may have an argument
with the government (e.g. The Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City,
Ok.). He may have religious reasons (e.g. The air attacks against
the World Trade Centers, The Pentagon, and the failed attack resulting
in the crash in Somerset County, Pa.). The responders actions merely
deal with mitigation efforts in such cases. It is however important
to the responder if the motive includes follow-up attacks on the responders
as well as the original intended victims (e.g. The bombings at the Sandy
Springs Clinic and The Otherside Lounge near Atlanta, Ga.). These
bombings had secondary devices placed with the express intent of injuring
responders while they were working the initial bombings.
Should we all be
concerned with WMD threats? Most of the larger jurisdictions around
the country have some form of planning addressing a WMD event. But
what about the small city, town or county? If your town doesnít have
a plan because you think it canít or wonít happen in your backyard, ask
yourself this one question; Where did Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahmanís followers
construct the Urea Nitrate bomb that was used in the 1st attack on the
World Trade Center in 1993. HintÖ it was a small town in New Jersey.
Prior to the bombing
of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building on April 19, 1995, many people
in the United Stated never believed that an attack could happen in our
country. As a direct result of that attack, the Weapons of Mass Destruction
Act of 1996 was drafted by U.S. Senators Sam Nunn and Richard Lugar.
This bill, later signed into law by President Clinton, allocated monies
for Domestic Preparedness Training. This training was the first wide-spread
Nuclear, Biological and Chemical (NBC) training designed for non-military
first responders. Once this law was enacted, and the federal funding
for the 120 most populated areas in the U.S. was initiated, the fire service
began to recognize the actual threat of a WMD. But no one was prepared
for the magnitude of the attacks of 9/11.
Terrorism can come
in many forms, from weapons of mass destruction, to eco-terrorism, to cyber-terrorism,
to suicide bombings. The tide is just beginning to ebb. Over
the next few months I will be addressing many issues dealing with terrorism,
emergency response and domestic preparedness.
If we learn nothing
else from the loss of 343 of our brothers from FDNY, let us learn to expect
the unexpected, that none of us are immune from these types of attacks,
and that the question is not if it will happen again, ButÖ will we be prepared
when it does?