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Emergency Preparation in Tompkins County, New York


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The aftermath of the Oklahoma City bombing. Photo from MSN Encarta.

Terrorism and Bioterrorism

In the past:

Tompkins County has not been the target of terrorism or bioterrorism, but we can feel its effects.

Although Tompkins County was not directly affected by the September 11, 2001 attacks, the indirect effects have been stunning: aside from relatives or loved ones losing their lives, we have seen the growth of the Department of Homeland Security and its effects on our region, increased airport security, greater public concern about terrorism, and on and on.


The FBI defines terrorism as "the unlawful use of force or violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a Government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives." In other words, terrorists illegally use violence against civilians or governments to promote their own political or social goals. Domestic terrorism involves terrorist groups within the US and against the US Government, and international terrorism involves a terrorist group that operates across national boundaries.

Bioterrorism uses biological agents -- specially-engineered diseases -- as weapons. This particular form of terrorism is especially difficult, because there is no way of predicting what type of disease can be employed.

Risk to Tompkins County residents:

Terrorists attacks focus on four goals:

  1. Destroying infrastructure (roads, bridges, power plants, etc.).
  2. Inflicting mass casualties (killing large groups of people).
  3. Inflicting psychological impairment.
  4. Demoralizing people and eroding faith in government.

In order to do this with scarce resources, terrorists focus on four main types of targets:

  1. Critical infrastructure (roads, bridges, power plants, etc.).
  2. Public buildings or assembly places (malls, convention centers, tourist sites, etc.).
  3. Symbolic or historical sites (tall buildings, statues, monuments, etc.)
  4. Controversial facilities or businesses (abortion clinics, banks, nuclear facilities, etc.).

The best fit for all of these criteria in Tompkins County is Cornell University, with Ithaca College to a lesser degree. These schools are critical to the economy of Tompkins County, they are public places with large groups of people, they are highly visible symbols of American higher education, and are in some ways controversial, given some of the research that goes on, especially at Cornell. These schools would be the highest risk in Tompkins County, but by no means the only risk. The airport, local manufacturing, larger downtown buildings are potential targets.

How to prepare:

Additional Resources

National Disaster Education Coalition - Guide to terrorism safety and preparedness.

American Red Cross - advice on terrorism.

The US Department of Homeland Security - for info on the current Threat Advisory level.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention page on bioterrorism, bioterror agents, and safety.

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