Community Awareness with Explosives

Terrorism – Explosives and Incendiary Devices

The purpose of this circular is to provide a standardized source of instruction in responding to, and addressing incidents involving terrorist attacks, hazardous materials incidents, and biohazardous contaminations. This circular is designed for use by Department personnel and the general public; it serves to foster an understanding of the effects terrorist acts have on a civilian population. This circular will provide guidance on how to respond, if such events occur.

Recently, the United States of America has been attacked through the use of terrorist tactics. Unfortunately, we cannot change the events of the past or their causes. However, we have every resource at our disposal to address and prepare for such incidents in the future. In the past, the vast majority of all terrorist attacks have been overt attacks, usually bombings. In the future, terrorist attacks may be overt bombings or covert attacks involving the use of biological agents. The latter is especially difficult to combat due to the delay in detection between the exposure and the first signs of symptoms. Therefore, it is incumbent upon us to create a personal emergency plan to effectively deal with any biohazard incident. Terrorist acts can occur in several fashions. These include bombings, hijackings, biological, and chemical attacks.

Terrorist Attacks

The Federal Bureau of Investigation describes 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.”

Because acts of terrorism are likely to be unusual occurrences, education and pre-planning are the keys to preparedness. Intervention prior to any terrorist activity is the optimum way in which to prevent such activities. However, it is extremely difficult to prepare for and prevent random acts of terrorism due to the covert nature of the activities. Therefore, it is imperative that all persons be aware of potential targets and any unusual activities that may be indicative of possible terrorism. Such activities may include the following:

  • Surveillance or “casing” of locations.
  • Suspicious procurement of items such as bomb making materials, chemicals, timers, and wiring.
  • Storing of weapons and/or chemicals.
  • Secretive meetings or contacts.
  • Unusual and unattended vehicles parked at or near locations.

If you observe any of the above-described activities, you should immediately notify your local law enforcement agency by dialing 911or the Federal Bureau of Investigation, by calling their tip hot line at 866-483-5137.

In the event of a terrorist attack, the following should be considered:

DO NOT touch, cover, or move any type of device!

  • Be aware of possible secondary devices.
  • Conduct evacuations as necessary.
  • Notify your local law enforcement agency or the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

If you are in a building or structure, particularly a high-rise building, that is a target of terrorist activity, consider the following:

  • During the initial attack, you should seek cover under desks or tables. If these items are not readily available, move against an interior wall and protect your head with your arms. Move away from windows and balconies.
  • Do not use elevators and don’t be surprised if sprinkler systems or alarms are activated.
  • If you are able, immediately evacuate the area and move to a safe location. Leave search and rescue activities to responding authorities. Know where the emergency exits are located.
  • During evacuation procedures, immediately move away from the targeted location and seek shelter inside a secure area. Glass windows and other building materials may be dislodged and may fall outwards several hundred feet.
  • If you are outdoors near the targeted location during the initial attack, duck behind an item that will provide you cover, such as a tree or doorway, and get down as low as possible. After the initial attack, move to a safe area away from the targeted location. Stay out of damaged buildings.
  • Consider the possibility of additional attacks or secondary explosions.

Managers of businesses located in high-rise buildings should develop an evacuation plan and ensure that all employees are familiar with its procedures. They should also consider implementing a floor warden system, where each floor has an individual responsible for overseeing evacuation and emergency procedures.

It is important to remember that as a result of a terrorist attack, you may be incapacitated or trapped inside a location for hours or even days. Therefore, it is important to consider preparing an emergency survival kit that you can keep in a handy location. The kit should include some basic survival items.

These include:

  • Water. A good rule of thumb is one gallon, per person, per day.
  • Flashlight with extra batteries.
  • Fire extinguisher.
  • Small radio (battery powered).
  • Whistle. If you are trapped in a location, you may not be able to yell for help due to injuries. Also, thick dust and debris in the air will fill your lungs as you attempt to yell for help. Therefore, a whistle should be used to summon help if you are trapped inside a structure.
  • First Aid Kit.
  • Can opener or multi-purpose type survival tool.
  • Matches.
  • Any essential medication.

It is also important to remember that at the scene of a terrorist attack, flammable liquids, toxic, and hazardous materials may be spilled or released in the area. Therefore, contact with any fluid or potentially explosive materials should be avoided. Individuals in the area of the attack should not smoke, eat, drink, and should remain upwind and uphill if possible.

Frequently, traditional acts of overt terrorism are carried out through the use of bombs. Whether it’s a car bomb, mail bomb, or suspicious package or device. The following guidelines should be used in dealing with any suspicious item believed to be an explosive.

  • Turn off all electronic equipment. Radios, pagers, and cell phones may cause an explosive device to detonate. Use traditional land line telephones to call authorities.
  • If a suspicious package or device is found, DO NOT TOUCH IT. Immediately evacuate the area and have all people move to a minimum distance of 300 feet from the suspicious package or device.
  • Remember this…if you can see the suspicious package or device…it can see you. Evacuate to a position of safety where you cannot see the device. Therefore, if it explodes you greatly reduce the likelihood of being injured.
  • Notify your local law enforcement agency.

Biological and Chemical Terrorism

Potentially, the most lethal form of a terrorist act could be the use of biological and chemical agents. Only very small amounts of an agent are needed to affect a large portion of the population. The use of biological weapons usually takes place in a covert manner and one does not realize that they have been targeted, until after the fact, when the symptoms of illness appear. Therefore, protection against this form of a terrorist attack is extremely difficult because it requires knowledge that biological agents have been released.

Biological Attacks

There are two basic forms of biological agents. They are bacteria/viruses, and toxins. These agents are comprised of living organisms. Examples of bacteria are Anthrax and Pneumonic Plague. Examples of viruses are Smallpox and Ebola. Toxins are poisonous substances produced by plants or animals, and include examples such as Botulism and Ricin. Toxins and bacteria, such as Anthrax, are not contagious. However, viruses such as Smallpox are contagious and may be spread from person to person.

Characteristics of biological agents include the following:

  • No immediate effect. The symptoms take time to appear, which ranges anywhere between a few hours to weeks.
  • They are undetectable by human senses.
  • They must be inhaled or ingested. They do not penetrate unbroken skin.
  • They are adversely affected by weather conditions such as sunlight. Therefore, they are more likely to be used at night or in enclosed areas.
  • Likely to be spread through the use of aerosols.
  • Symptoms include flu-like symptoms.

If you notice these symptoms, you should seek medical attention immediately.

Chemical Attacks

Chemical agents are a means by which terrorist groups may conduct attacks against urban populations. Any contact with all chemical agents requires the wearing of specially designed protective gear and clothing, such as gas masks and protective suits. Some examples of chemical agents include:

  • Nerve agents: These are not readily available, however they are extremely toxic and deadly.
  • Choking agents: These are gases, which irritate the respiratory tract and cause immediate coughing and choking.
  • Blister agents: These agents are usually disseminated as liquids and evaporate slowly. An example is Mustard Gas. Some symptoms include reddening of the skin and severe blistering.
  • Blood agents: These agents are inhaled and are deadly. An example of a blood agent is Hydrogen Cyanide. Some symptoms of blood agents are a flush appearance with red lips, frothing at the mouth, vomiting, unconsciousness, and death.

Chemical agents have been used during warfare with extremely effective results. During a chemical terrorist attack, the best place to be is on high ground far from the dissemination location. This is because most chemical agents are heavier than air and tend to stay near the surface of the ground.

Tips for Suspected Letters with Biological or Chemical Agents

Biological and chemical agents may be disseminated in a variety of fashions. One manner of dissemination may be through the use of mailing letters or packages containing these agents. If you receive a letter or package that you suspect is contaminated, do not handle it.

Here is what you should do if you receive a package or letter that you believe may be suspicious or may possibly contain biological or chemical agents.

  • Handle the letter or package with care. Don’t shake or bump.
  • Isolate the package or mail and look for indicators of foul play. These include:
    • Unexpected non-commercial mail or mail from someone you don’t know.
    • Mail addressed to someone no longer at your address.
    • Oily stains, discoloration, or crystallization on outer package.
    • Handwritten mail that has no return address or incomplete return address or one that you can’t confirm as legitimate.
    • Excessive tape or string.
    • Excessive postage or restrictive markings, such as “Personal” or “Confidential”.
    • Wrong title with name on address label.
    • Addressed to a title only or incorrect title.
    • Badly typed, written or misspelled words.
    • Protruding wires.
    • Mailed from a foreign country.
    • Lopsided, uneven, bulky, or rigid packaging.
    • Strange odor.
    • An unopened letter or package that appears to be empty.
    • Marked with a threatening message.
    • Don’t open, smell, or taste if any of the above listed indicators are present

If the letter or package exhibits any of the above-described indicators, coupled with a credible threat or suspicious material, isolate it, and call 911. (If there is no credible threat, no suspicious material, or none of the above-mentioned indicators exist; it is recommended that the recipients dispose of the letter or package themselves or return it to the sender via the U.S. Postal Service).

Ensure that all persons who have handled the letter or package wash their hands with soap and water.

Important tips to remember in dealing with the possibility of exposure to biological or chemical agents are:

  • Don’t assume anything. If you receive a threatening or suspicious letter or package, don’t touch it. Leave it where it is and notify your local law enforcement agency.
  • Don’t TEST. Don’t taste, eat, smell, or touch any object or item that may be contaminated. Including your own clothing.
  • Don’t become a victim by rushing in to help others. Leave the rescue and recovery efforts to responding authorities.
  • Seek immediate medical attention. If you have contact with, or believe you have had contact with, any biological or chemical agent seek medical attention immediately. Especially if any of the described symptoms appear.

If a letter or package is opened and it is determined after opening that it possibly contains biological or chemical agents, conduct the following:

  • DO NOT clean up any powder or materials that may have spilled out of the package.
  • Keep everyone away from the area.
  • Leave the room, isolate the room or area, and secure entry into the affected area.
  • Shut down the air conditioning or ventilation system.
  • Wash hands with soap and water.
  • Do not brush off your clothing.
  • Notify your local law enforcement agency.
  • Remove your clothing and place it in a plastic bag as soon as possible.
  • Shower with soap and water. Do not use bleach or other disinfectants.
  • Put on fresh clothing
  • Make a list of all people who had contact with the substance or package and give it to the investigating authorities.
  • Remain on the premises until responding authorities arrive.


Acts of terrorism go against the principle of every civilized nation and seek to impose fear and intimidation upon those to whom they are directed. They are barbarous tactics, which do not discriminate, and target all people in the area directed. However, through a heightened sense of awareness and increased security measures, we can successfully overcome these dangers.

The information included in this circular was compiled from material obtained from the following:

  • Federal Bureau of Investigation Advisory, CNN Worldwide Web site,, Health icon.
  • United States Postal Service, Worldwide Web site,
  • Los Angeles Police Department, Emergency Preparedness Bulletin, Vol. 2, No. 3.
  • Worldwide Web site,,bioterrorism.
  • Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Public Health Preparedness and Response link,
  • Worldwide Web site,, facts about bioterrorism.
  • Los Angeles Police Department, Emergency Preparedness Bulletin, Vol. 2, No.2.
  • Los Angeles City Fire Department, Earthquake Preparedness Handbook,