Disasters and Emergencies


Terrorism is the use of violence or the threat of violence to attain political, religious or ideological goals. Terrorists accomplish this through intimidation, coercion and instilling fear.

Acts of terrorism include assassinations, bomb scares and bombings, cyber attacks (computer based), hijackings, kidnappings, and the use of chemical, biological, nuclear and radiological weapons.

Terrorists often choose targets in areas with relatively easy public access that offer little danger to themselves. Foreign terrorists look for visible targets where they can avoid detection before and after an attack, such as:

  • Government facilities (military and civilian)
  • International airports
  • Large cities
  • Major international events
  • Resorts
  • High-profile landmarks

Terrorists might also target large public gatherings, water and food supplies, utilities, and corporate centers. They are also capable of spreading fear by sending explosives or chemical and biological agents through the mail.

Learn about the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s If You See Something, Say Something Campaign.

Oklahoma City bombing fence memorial

Learn about different types of terrorist attacks and how to prepare for them.


It’s hard to believe that 20 years have passed since the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, an event that devastated our nation and changed the course of history forever. The 9/11 terrorist attacks took nearly 3,000 lives and had a profound impact on millions of others. On the 20th anniversary of the attacks, four members of the HSEMD staff, now and then, speak about how the tragic day shaped them, how it has affected them both personally and professionally, and reflect on the events 20 years later. 

Lost at World Trade Center site

Lost when American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon

Lost when United Airlines Flight 93 crashed near Shanksville, PA

Countries with citizens lost on 9/11
Police and emergency vehicles respond to event




You can prepare to deal with a terrorist incident by adapting many of the same techniques used to prepare for other crises:

  • Be aware of your surroundings. The very nature of terrorism suggests that there may be little or no warning. Be aware of heavy or breakable objects that could move, fall or break in an explosion.
  • Move or leave the area if you feel uncomfortable or something doesn’t “seem right.”
  • Take precautions when traveling. Be aware of conspicuous or unusual behavior. Do not accept packages from strangers. Do not leave your luggage unattended. You should promptly report unusual behavior, suspicious or unattended packages, and strange devices to the police or security personnel.
  • Know where emergency exits are located. Think ahead about how to evacuate a building, subway or congested public area in a hurry. Learn where staircases are located.
  • Be prepared to do without services on which you normally depend: electricity, telephone, natural gas, gasoline pumps, cash registers, ATMs, and internet.
  • Work with building owners and managers to ensure the following items are located on each floor of the buildings you work/frequent:
      • Portable, battery-operated radio and extra batteries
      • Several flashlights and extra batteries
      • First aid kit and manual
      • Hard hats and dust masks
      • Fluorescent tape to rope off dangerous areas

    Learn about the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s If You See Something, Say Something Campaign.


Bomb Threats

If you receive a bomb threat, get as much information from the caller as possible. Keep the caller on the line and record everything that is said. Notify the police and the building management.


After you’ve been notified of a bomb threat, do not touch any suspicious packages. Clear the area around the suspicious package and notify the police immediately. When evacuating a building, avoid standing in front of windows or other potentially hazardous areas. Do not restrict sidewalk or streets to be used by emergency officials.

After an Explosion Incident

Should you find yourself in a building when there is an explosion:

  • Get out of the building as quickly and calmly as possible.
  • If items are falling off of bookshelves or from the ceiling, get under a sturdy table or desk.
  • If there is a fire:
      • Stay low to the floor and exit the building as quickly as possible. Heavy smoke and poisonous gases collect first along the ceiling. Stay below the smoke at all times.
      • Cover your nose and mouth with a wet cloth (if possible).
      • When approaching a closed door, use the palm of your hand and forearm to feel the lower, middle and upper parts of the door. If it is not hot, brace yourself against the door and open it slowly. If it is hot to the touch, do not open the door; seek an alternative escape route.
  • If you are trapped in or under debris:
      • Use a flashlight (if possible).
      • Stay in your area so that you don’t kick up dust. Cover your mouth with a handkerchief or clothing.
      • Tap on a pipe or wall so that rescuers can hear where you are. Use a whistle if one is available. Shout only as a last resort; shouting can cause a person to inhale dangerous amounts of dust.

Assisting Victims

Untrained persons should not attempt to rescue people who are inside a collapsed building. Wait for emergency personnel to arrive.


Chemical Agents

Chemical agents are poisonous gases, liquids or solids that have toxic effects on people, animals or plants. Most chemical agents can cause serious injury or death. The severity of injuries depends on the type and amount of the chemical agent used, and the duration of the exposure.


If a chemical attack were to occur, authorities would instruct citizens to either seek shelter where they are and seal the premises, or evacuate immediately. Exposure to chemical agents can be fatal. Leaving the shelter to rescue or assist victims can be a deadly decision. There is no assistance that the untrained can offer that would likely be of any value to the victims of chemical agents.


Biological Agents

Biological agents are organisms or toxins that have illness-producing effects on people, animals or crops.


Because biological agents can not necessarily be detected and may take time to grow and cause disease, it is almost impossible to know that a biological attack has occurred. If government officials become aware of a biological attack through an informant or warning by terrorists, they would most likely instruct citizens to either seek shelter where they are and seal the premises, or evacuate immediately.


A person affected by a biological agent requires the immediate attention of professional medical personnel. Some agents may be contagious, and victims may need to be quarantined. Also, some medical facilities may not receive victims for fear of contaminating the hospital population.