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Hot Spots of Terrorism and Other Crimes in the United States, 1970-2008. START

A recent study from the University of Maryland funded in part by the Dept of Homeland Security in the US mapped out the concentration of terrorist attacks throughout the country from 1970-2008.  The findings show that the number of attacks has been significant in urban areas such as Los Angeles and New York City over time, but many terrorist attacks actually took place in rural areas.  The primary source of data for the study is the Global Terrorism Database that includes not only attacks from foreign terrorist groups, but attacks from home-grown leftist and right-wing ‘extremists’, along with violent religious groups.  Authors of the study define terrorism broadly as ‘the threatened or actual use of illegal force by non-state actors, in order to attain a political, economic, religious or social goal, through fear, coercion or intimidation’.  Taking this definition into account, the number of terrorist attacks in the US has actually dropped significantly since the early 1970s. Read more

After the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center (WTC) and the Pentagon, there is still much work to be done in how security, terror and risk are understood and prepared for in society.  Like financial crises, it is not so much a matter of if it will happen, but when it will happen.  The goal of increased security intelligence is to mitigate risk of any terrorist attack, but a recent review of national security in the US from the federal and state levels, all the way to the security technologies used by airports, shows that vulnerabilities do exist and they need to be addressed as soon as possible.  The 9/11 attacks not only changed how the United States viewed the risk of terror, but resonated with countries throughout the world who have experienced terrorist attacks since that tragic event, including the 7/7 bombings in London, the bombing of commuter trains in Madrid, the Belsan school hostage crisis in Russia that killed 330 people (mostly children) and a whole list of others.

The 9/11 Commission’s report, while literary in tone and revealing of a number of important details about the attacks, still only provides a limited scope of what actually took place before and after the attacks.  There were a number of testimonies left out of the report including one given by a former translator for the FBI, Behrooz Sarshar, who said he had knowledge of a ‘kamikaze pilot’ plan to attack the US.  He was formally interviewed by the 9/11 Commission who received pressure from the 9/11 Family Steering Committee to take Sarshar’s testimony and although a memorandum of this meeting is available online, it is heavily edited, with much of its content omitted.  Sarshar said he had written to FBI Director Robert Mueller twice about what he knew, but did not do so until  November 2002 and again in January 2003, long after the attacks.  When asked why he waited so long to bring forward this information ‘he said he didn’t want to do any damage to the FBI’.  Sarshar’s and other potentially useful testimonies were left out of the 9/11 Commission’s report. Read more

A few months back, a statement was issued by the Federal Aviation Administration FAA in the US about chemical oxygen generators being disabled or removed from lavatories because they posed a ‘security vulnerability’ and could potentially be used to start a fire.  The problem of course is that if you happen to be in the lavatory of an American commercial aircraft thousands of metres above ground, and there is a loss of cabin pressure, it could lead to hypoxia — when the body is deprived of adequate oxygen supply — causing injury or death.

While loss of cabin pressure itself seems a rarity nowadays, this recent regulation shows that risks posed by terrorism can transform how we view other risks, such as health.  And while releasing information about eliminating this security risk definitely seems reasonable, will other airlines outside the US have to follow suit since the risk has been made available publicly?  Where do the boundaries lie between security, risk and national law?  When does making something secure create new risks while preventing others?  Obviously, preventing the possibility of terrorist attacks through various means has priority, as these risks can lead to disasters resulting in the loss of many lives and tremendous damage. Read more

IHRR has a programme of research dedicated to ‘Security and Risk’ and one element of this programme is thinking through how we are confronting new security regimes, such as those found in airports.

We live in technologically managed ‘risk environments.’  In some ways, everything is shaped around risk; it provides the margins, the guidelines for how we build a technological society.  Airports are the biggest example, particularly in post 9/11 US.  I recently visited the States — Detroit, Michigan.  Leaving from Detroit Metro Airport for London Heathrow I was in for a bit of a surprise, and whilst I recalled the past event of a passenger attempting to detonate an explosive device after his flight landed in Detroit from Amsterdam, I had no idea what I was in store for. Read more

Hazard Risk Resilience Magazine Issue 2 Out Now!

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