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Emergency Management And Disaster

CBRN terrorism remains one of the most significant threats facing the US and the world, at large. The terrorist attack of September 9, 2001 qualifies as a proof of the terrorists’ intent to inflict the highest possible number of casualties. The possibility that terrorist organizations could utilize biological, nuclear or chemical weapons remains an ongoing concern, especially in light of a marked trend among terrorist groups. The latter ones are seeking to inflict high numbers of casualties (Falkenrath 1998, 4). As such, CBRN weapons are considered to present the best opportunity for attaining the mass destruction effect. Although weapons of mass destruction (WMD) remain highly difficult to produce or access, the chemical attacks in Iraq elevated the old fears that terrorist groups may utilize harmful chemicals, especially elemental chlorine (Kratovac 2007). Toxic industrial chemicals or materials qualify as a weapon of choice for terrorist organizations since toxic industrial chemicals are readily available. Furthermore, the majority of chemicals are utilized within plants in which storage and transit security measures are lax or questionable. The paper proceeds on the assumption that governments carry the responsibility of preventing the unauthorized utilization of CBRN materials, especially by terrorist organizations. The paper argues that, in the worst case scenario, the outcome of a deliberate attack or sabotage of industrial plants could have catastrophic impacts.

CBRN Agent Background

Chemical agents constitute both contact and inhalation hazards. Chemical agents are meant to kill, severely injure, or incapacitate targets via physiological effects. The terrorist attacks of September 9, 2001 coupled with anthrax incidents triggered increasing attention to the terrorist threats. The notion of terror organizations utilizing the WMD incites fears directly into the target population (O’Neill, 2006). As such, terror organizations are keen to publicize violence or a threat of violence so as to strike fear in the population. Al-Qaeda and its affiliates remain the most probable terrorist group to carry out the CBRN attack since it possesses necessary resources (Bunn and Wier 2006, 133). Al-Qaeda’s objective in utilizing the CBRN is to cause mass casualties. However, the bulk of probable terrorist attacks are highly likely to be a small scale, integrating comparatively crude delivery means and readily produced or accessible chemicals (Holloway et al. 2004, 6).


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The triumph of any Al-Qaeda attack and the resultant casualties would hinge on numerous attacks such as the technical expertise of perpetrators. However, the bulk of the scenarios could yield to massive panic and disruption (Palfy 2003, 81). Largely, terrorist groups have a disincentive to attempt to utilize CBRN weapons owing to the little benefits and high risks involved, compared to conventional explosives. CBRN weapons pose strategic restrictions since they are less reliable and less effective relatively to conventional methods (Stenersen 2007, 118). Nevertheless, Al-Qaeda affiliate groups may pay less attention to the strategic calculations since the desire to cause maximum damage will still reign supreme (Friedman 2005, 22). Al-Qaeda affiliate groups are highly likely to undertake the small-scale CBRN attack such as the use of improvised chemical weapons, i.e. chlorine gas. It can act as a choking agent (Mowatt-Larssen 2010). Chlorine gas is denser than air and, hence, disperses gradually into the atmosphere after release. However, problems will still remain in designing the delivery system. Largely, terrorists are most likely to pursue available industrial chemicals, instead of attempting to make nerve agents (Mueller 2009, 3; Quillen 2007, Par.1). Indeed, nerve agents are hard to produce and demand a synthesis of numerous, large quantities of precursor chemicals. There is a broad range of toxic industrial chemicals (TICs) that, while not as deadly as mustard, cyanide, or nerve agents, can be utilized within large quantities to compensate their reduced toxicity.

The term toxic industrial chemicals encapsulate the diverse chemicals employed or created by industries, which possess significant influence on human health if accidentally or deliberately released. A significant threat remains for the populations located downwind or downstream from a deliberate or accidental release of chemicals or for those ones situated close to toxic industrial processes. Toxic industrial chemicals (TICs) are produced and employed by commercial or medical sectors that can severely injure human health if released into the environment. TICs can act as chemical hazards (agents that affect the blood or lungs or cancer agents) as well as physical hazards (reactive, explosive or flammable).

Toxic industrial chemicals pose a major risk when stockpiled within huge quantities in various locations. An act of sabotage or an inadvertent release can orchestrate a catastrophic release of toxic material such as chlorine gas with significant lethality. The Bhopal chemical disaster, which occurred on December 3, 1984, constitutes one of the most devastating industrial accidents in the history. The leakage, at the pesticide manufacturing plant, led to the release of close to 40 tons of extremely toxic methyl isocyanate. It killed thousands of people and left thousands more suffering from chronic and debilitating ailments. The Bhopal disaster animates the devastating impacts that the chemical release can have on densely populated cities. The severity of a chemical attack hinges on the toxicity of the chemical and its concentration. A myriad of variables influences the concentration of the chemical such as the volatility of the chemical and wind. The release of TICs within closed spaces carry the potential of delivering highly concentrated doses capable of maiming or killing a significant number of people.

Proposed Terrorist Scenario

Chemical terrorism is sometimes downplayed as a choice of CBRN attack merely because it does not inflict mass casualties for high-consequence scenarios. Nevertheless, chemical terrorism qualifies as the most probable form of CBRN terrorism. It happens especially when the comparative ease of accessing industrial chemicals from the economy coupled with the low threshold of equipment and training needed is considered (Tucker 2000, 12). Nerve agents are viewed as the most probable threat, not because they are accessible, but rather they are the most lethal ones.
Industrial plants that handle toxic chemicals are prospective targets for saboteurs, terrorists, or even dissatisfied employees. A sabotage of industrial facilities or toxic chemicals in transit could deliver the impacts of a chemical weapons attack devoid of demanding a terrorist group to either establish or access chemical agents on their own. Industrial production of chlorine within the US surpasses 15 million tons yearly (Jones, Wills, and Kang 2010, 151). Chlorine has some uses within multiple industrial practices in a wide range of manufacturing products. Since chlorine production occurs within less than 20 states, chlorine has to be transported within large quantities across metropolitan areas by rail or road. The large-scale transportation and storage of chlorine near urban centers render chlorine an attractive target for terrorist groups seeking to inflict harm to urban populations (Jones, Wills, and Kang 2010, 151). Terrorist groups can easily rupture the vessels so as to disseminate the harmful chemicals. The utilization and storage of chlorine in the areas close to metropolitan areas could give terrorist groups an opportunity to deploy the chlorine as a chemical weapon within highly populated areas. Moreover, chlorine does not require to be chemically synthesized. Chlorine gas does not need active aerosolization for successful dispersal (Jones, Wills, and Kang 2010, 151). A deliberate release of chlorine by terrorist groups such as Al-Qaeda affiliate groups through bombing the storage of storage vessels or sabotage of industrial plants could lead to thousands of casualties.

Prevention Strategies

Prevention strategies embody the adopting of mitigative actions meant to prevent and minimize the impacts of a CBRN terrorist attack. The prevention strategy should prioritize the security risk control points based on the level of vulnerability and a possible impact. The first step in the prevention strategy centers on highlighting the susceptible areas during the transportation of hazardous chemicals or at an industrial site. Keeping would be terrorists and saboteurs in the darkness about security measures that can offer a crucial layer of protection. Terrorists are likely hesitant if they are less convinced their acts will thrive. There is a need to tighten the security of high-risk chemical plants and the transportation infrastructure. It necessitates pooling the efforts of both the government and the private sector (Mauroni 2010).

Chemical security encompasses the physical protection of chemicals, limiting the number of people who have an access to them, and the management of processes for transportation of chemicals. Addressing plant and site security concerns should constitute a part of the overriding strategy to manage the risk posed by hazardous materials. The threat of CBRN terrorism incidents varies and manifests divergent implications to public safety, public confidence, and national security. As such, there is a need to reinforce the system of the shared CBRN-based intelligence across diverse agencies, especially in the arena of threat assessment and risk modeling (Stone 2009, 763). In addition, the risk posed by the chemical attack involving chlorine gas can be mitigated by minimizing the levels of chlorine consumption or substituting chlorine with intrinsically safer technologies (Jones, Wills, and Kang 2010, 151). Such a move will ensure that the hazard is eliminated rather than merely controlled.


Overall, the malicious release of toxic industrial chemicals qualifies as a credible threat scenario that can lead to mass casualty chemical exposure. The bulk of the characteristics and consequences of the release of a chemical agent by terrorists would be analogous to those emanating from an accidental release. Nevertheless, the scale of casualties is highly probable to surpass the projections of the accidental release. Indeed, the CBRN release, whether intentional or accidental, may carry the potential to yield to serious harm to human health and disruption to daily life. The execution of a chemical inventory system can help to elaborate on security and management of the TICs. It enhances their security and safety. Hence, the government must conduct regular inspections on all chemical plants that it deems highly vulnerable to terror attacks.

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