Threat of Terrorism Weighing Public Safety in Seattle Case Study

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Terrorism in Seattle

Even before the World Trade Center attack in September, 2011, most major cities in the United States were not only aware, but anticipatory regarding the potential for a terrorist attack. Seattle has been fortunate in that it has never experienced an actual international attack, but has had three major domestic incidents since 1999 that continue to be in the minds of Emergency Management professionals. In 1999, Ahmed Ressam, an Al-Qaeda operative, was apprehended smuggling bomb-making materials into Port Angeles. Because this was so close to the New Year's Eve Millennium event, the New Year's celebration at the Seattle Center was cancelled. Subsequently, the actual target was identified as Los Angeles International Airport. Then, in 2001, The Earth Liberation Front attacked the Urban Horticulture Center at the University of Washington, causing in excess of $7 million in damages. Finally, in 2006, gunmen attacked the Jewish Federal of Greater Seattle, leaving five wounded and one dead (Seattle Office of Emergency Management, 2013). Besides the issues present in violent actions, one must also ask about the organizational identification of factors that go into decision-making policies regarding potential terrorist threats. For example, in the 1999 Millennium issue in Seattle, one may look at a number of different paradigms that mitigate the situation: public safety frameworks, political necessity, fiscal fears, media and stakeholder opinions and values, and even prior experience and background of those making the decisions.

Certainly, no one knows which city or area may face the next round of attacks -- but it is likely to be a place that has a public and widespread number of consequences. In fact, since 9/11, there have been a number of changes made in an attempt to properly safeguard America against further strikes. The Patriot Act was implemented as a way to communicate broad spectrum safety and potential attack information and to further safeguard U.S. citizens at home and abroad. The Patriot Act provides governmental agencies with the legal means to conduct electronic surveillance, search and gather data, and perform analysis. Internet eavesdropping is used to find keywords, increased security at borders for travelers and immigrants, and several new banking regulations to prevent money laundering. (Olson, 2001).

Terrorism in the Modern Urban World

The world changed on September 11, 2001 when hijackers from a group called Al-Qaeda sent planes into New York City's Twin Towers and the Pentagon in Washington DC. In total, 3,000 people died, the majority citizens and not all from the United States, but at least 90 countries. Responding to this act was a global "War on Terrorism," which resulted in an invasion of Afghanistan, the U.S. Patriot Act, and several civil and social changes in American society. More than anything else, though, U.S. security policy came under intense scrutiny and a new Cabinet Level Department was formed, Homeland Security. Congress also reacted by authorizing the use of military force against any individual, group, or State that participated or had any relation to the 9/11 attacks. The changes made to the American security system because of 9/11 were vast, and affected citizens at home and abroad, with certain groups fearful that civil liberties were now less important than security. In fact, the Patriot Act provides governmental agencies with extraordinary legal means to conduct surveillance from the Internet, emails, telephones, and other communication devices; to search and gather data, perform analysis, and act without a Court warrant if there is a threat present. The technology known as "carnivore" is an example of this. Carnivore sifts through millions of emails and electronic communications to find keywords that might indicate potential terrorist threats. This also allows phones to be tapped, and surveillance to occur all without the knowledge of the subject or the Court system (Olson, 2001).

Historically, terrorism has been part of the tactics of a number of political organizations -- right and left wing, nationalistic groups, revolutionaries, religious groups and even some governments. The characteristic is an indiscriminate use of violence against civilian populations in a manner that gains publicity -- using fear to achieve a set of goals. The literature shows that there are over 100 different definitions for terrorism, and many scholars cannot agree on a precise meaning for the term. However, there are some commonalities and key characteristics that seem to be present in most scholarly works on the subject, particularly to distinguish terrorism from other types of crime: 1) Terrorism is political in motivation; 2) It is violent or threatens violence; 3) It is designed to have broad psychological repercussions beyond that of the immediate target; 4) It is conducted by an organization with a hierarchy, and; 5) It is perpetrated by a non-state organization (Hoffman, 2006, pp. 40-2).

What is at Stake for Seattle?

Seattle is a major U.S. city and important port and economic hub with almost 4 million inhabitants in the Greater Metro Area. There are several major corporations located in the area: Microsoft, Boeing,, Starbucks, Nordstrom, Costco, Providence Health, T-Mobile USA and PACCAR. The proximity to Canada and the relative ease of navigating the Puget still make this 15th largest city a viable target for terrorism (City Profiles, 2010). In fact, after 9/11, Seattle received millions in grants to boost anti-terrorism actions. To date, three full-scale exercises have centered on the response to terrorism from Seattle Law and Emergency professionals, with more planned (Seattle EM Office).

Overall, when viewing the organizational behaviors that occur when a direct terrorist threat is made, one finds that there is a logical process that may be used to not only identify the credibility of the threat, but to define the characteristic of the potential sites and damage. All of this, however, is based on the notion that there is a cogent "risk management" plan in place that is an amalgamation of resources, allocations, and feasibility studies (Johnson, 2013, pp. 3-44).

Risk management is a way to find, analyze, and then prioritize risks or hazards that may be associated with an organization. The purpose of Hazard Analysis and/or Risk Management is to be proactive rather than reactive in controlling potential problems that may occur -- fiscal, environmental, and human. In almost every organization there are some types of hazards and risks: safety issues, supplier issues, weather issues, legal or credit issues, disasters, completive attacks, etc. Risks and hazards are so common that standards have been set to identify, and hopefully help mitigate, potential issues (See Figure 1) (International Organization for Standardization, 2009). Basic risk management has at least six separate parts that help the organization: 1) Identification of risks or hazards within the particularly organization; 2) Setting up (the plan) a process to help mitigate the potential occurrence; 3) Mapping responsibilities, scope, objectives, involved parties, and any constraints; 4) Putting a framework in place to handle risks; 5) Analyzing probabilities of certain risks or hazards based on all available information; and, 6) Finding ways to solve risks as quickly as possible so that down time and/or fiscal risk is limited (Wan, 2009).

Seattle, of course, being a major urban center, had such a plan in place prior to the events of December 1999. The plan had two parts: one for the law enforcement/government to follow and the second to educate the populace on various aspects of terror attacks, preparedness and emergency management procedures. These plans were developed in conjunction with the Centers for Disease Control, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and the Washington State Departments of Health and Military. At the time, Homeland Security did not exist, and therefore many of the current mandated protocols in terms of communication and action were not yet in place (Seattle Government, 2012).

For the governmental plan, we can think of the situation as a flowchart that communicates a mind-set and directions for analyzing a terrorist threat. Note that there are two concurrent issues at play -- the threat evaluation process that moves from the planning stage to the recovery stage, and the response actions that are more tactical and operational (See Figure 2; EPA, 2004).

For Seattle, there was a great deal at stake. From the Public Health perspective there are of course death and injury to citizens. There are also concerns about acute and chronic effects if the threat were biological, chemical or radioactive. The likely closure of the ports would result in an economic disaster of a serious nature: 1/2 million per week in lost revenue affecting a minimum of 200,000 jobs (direct and indirect), as well as a substantial recovery and reconstruction project (if needed) (Port of Seattle, 2009). Economically, a terrorist attack in Seattle would have a ripple effect in that it would have an effect on families, culture, real estate prices, psychological trauma, loss of production, loss of tourism dollars, a blight on purchasing, travel, cargo in and out, and millions if not billions of lost revenue for all levels of business (Barber, 2002).

Specifically, for the New Year's Eve celebration in Seattle, some 50,000 people were expected. This is just the crowd surrounding…

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