Best Defense Against Terrorist Attack Is Personal Preparation, Says RAND Researcher

Herndon, VA July 1, 2004 -- Lynn Davis, Senior Political Scientist for the RAND Corp., is an expert on terrorism. Recently, she co-authored a RAND report detailing how average people can protect themselves and their families from harm in the event of terrorist attack. DHS Newswire ( recently caught up with Davis and asked her about the study.

Lynn Davis, who served as Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Affairs from 1993 to 1997, is Senior Political Scientist for the RAND Corp., one of the nation's leading policy research nonprofits. An expert on terrorism with a Ph.D. in Political Science from Columbia University, Davis also served as a member of Secretary of State's Accountability Review Board that investigated the embassy bombings in East Africa. She also worked on the staffs of the Secretary of Defense, the National Security Council, and the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

In 2003, she co-authored a RAND report detailing how average people can protect themselves and their families from harm in the event of terrorist attack. Also recommended is that the family bread winner should obtain life insurance. In case he/she is killed, the family can go on without undo financial burdens. That report, Individual Preparedness and Response to Chemical, Radiological, Nuclear, and Biological Terrorist Attacks, is available from RAND as a research report and also as a how-to "Quick Guide" containing personal preparedness information. DHS Newswire's ( Nathan Abse recently caught up with Davis and asked her about the study.

DHS NEWSWIRE: What is it that you've learned from your research, and how did you come to discover it? Other research in this field is usually focused on government or large-scale projects while your work is aimed at protecting individuals – just ordinary mortals.

DAVIS: Yes. The Sloan Foundation came to us and said this: A great deal of attention is being paid to how emergency responders and different levels of government in the United States are preparing to respond to catastrophic terrorist attacks. Very little attention is being paid to how you and I as citizens are going to respond. And we'd like for you to look at that question. We came back and proposed to them and subsequently carried out an approach that begins with the terrorist attacks themselves: Attacks involving chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear weapons. In developing these scenarios for each type of attack, we put ourselves in the situation of individuals -- what we would experience, what our goals would be if the attack were to occur, and the steps we would take in order to take care of our primary needs, for health and survival.

And what we discovered by taking this approach beginning with the terrorist attacks themselves is that, (first), the most important conclusion is that there are things that will make a difference to your and my survival. The second thing we discovered is that the dangers arise so quickly in three of the cases -- in a chemical attack, in a radiological attack, in a nuclear attack -- we as individuals will be essentially on our own. That is, it will happen too quickly for the government or emergency responders to tell us what to do.

That places a real importance on thinking in advance about what might happen in these situations, and having knowledge of what to do – the simple things you can do. And so, we were able to put together a strategy that you and I would adapt based on what it is that we would experience and need to do in any of the four different kinds of attacks, and the few things we can do today to prepare to be able to take those steps in the event. We are in no way suggesting that these attacks will happen or how likely they might be. These are just prudent steps to take today so that you and I would be better able to survive a catastrophic terrorist attack.

We made this understandable and readily available to citizens. In addition to the full RAND report, which contains all of our analysis, We put out what we call a "Quick Guide."

DHS NEWSWIRE: That's the 26-page report I see available on the RAND web site.

DAVIS: That's right. It lays out the strategy. And in the back of the Quick Guide, and in the full report, there's a small card that you can put on your desk or put in your pocket. The card has, for each type of attack, summed up on a panel what you will experience and what you should do.

I hope it's simpler to understand than some of the other "handy terror guides" I've seen.

I think you will find our Quick Guide attractive and useful. You can download it from our website as well.

DHS NEWSWIRE: Your most recent work – "Individual Preparedness and Response to Chemical, Radiological, Nuclear and Biological Attacks" – offers a concise step-by-step plan for various terrorism scenarios. Can you walk me through just one of them? Say, for example, I'm outdoors in an urban area and I hear on the radio that there's an attack. The only thing the authorities announce is that it's a suspected radiological "dirty bomb." What should I do?

DAVIS: In the case of a chemical attack, a radiological attack, a nuclear attack, the dangers will arise so quickly to you and I as individuals we will be on our own. We will need to understand what's happening around us. But in the case of a radiological attack or a dirty bomb, we would know that an explosion had occurred by the blast and damage to a building, but we won't know immediately whether it involves radiological material. So not knowing whether or not it involves radioactive contamination, your goal and my goal in that situation is to avoid inhaling dust that could be radioactive. The dust from that explosion. To do that -- if the explosion is outdoors -- the simple thing to do is to cover your nose and mouth -- with your hands or a dust mask if you have one available -- and to seek shelter inside a building. If you're inside and your building is not damaged by this explosion then you should stay there because you are protecting yourself form the dust by waiting inside. Then you would wait until the emergency responders would arrive, to take over at that point, to tell you what to do. But your immediate goal will be to avoid inhaling the dust that could be radioactive.

DHS NEWSWIRE: I know you said you take no position on the likelihood of any particular type of attack, but is there another scenario we should discuss?

DAVIS: There are three with immediate dangers, and one that is different.

DHS NEWSWIRE: Which is the type of attack that doesn't fit the mold?

DAVIS: That's the biological attack. In the event of a biological attack, you are most likely as an individual to learn about the attack only days later, when people develop symptoms of the disease, and public health officials inform the public of an attack. At that point in time those officials should be in a position to lay out for you the type of agent that's been used in the biological attack, and then to suggest to you what to do, and to carry out what will be your overarching goal -- which will be to get medical aid and to minimize further exposure to that individual agent. So what we do in our recommended strategy is then to go on to describe for you what you and I as individuals today should expect to be told to do under different types of biological attacks. In most cases, someone else will be there to help you know what's best to do.

DHS NEWSWIRE: Do you think we should be immunized against various biological possibilities?

We go on to describe in the full report what types of medical treatments might be available to individuals today, and of course we comment on the fact that, for example, in an anthrax attack the vaccine that is currently available is not available to you and me as individuals. The government has used this for people in the military, but not for individuals. Over time some of the preparatory steps might be available to individuals. But not at the present time.

DHS NEWSWIRE: Although your work has the advantage of offering specific actions ordinary people can take in preparing for an emergency, and steps to take in the event of that emergency, tell our readers what sets your work apart from the "duct tape" hysteria that followed the anthrax attacks on Congress and media headquarters in 2001? And – by the way – was any of that advice, to keep duct tape and plastic on hand – useful?

DAVIS: When the Department of Homeland Security came out with their initial guidance, they were drawing on guidelines that had been developed for other types of emergencies. And, at that point in time, doing the best they could to suggest steps that individuals could take. What we went on to do subsequently was to start -- as I described, research the scenarios themselves; that is, the terrorist attacks of the four different types -- and then to suggest first, the actions you and I could take to respond to the situations as they arise and then go on in our strategy to suggest preparatory action for them. And the most important preparatory action in our view would be to gain an understanding of what would be required to accomplish the response action in each of the types of terrorist attacks, and then to think about how you would implement these steps in your daily lives with your families.

We then went on to suggest a few things that you and I might add to our emergency kits, specifically designed for terrorist attacks. In that list we include a dust mask, as I described earlier, would be useful in a dirty bomb attack. A battery powered radio, so that wherever you are in these dangers, when advice becomes available you are able to hear it. And then we do actually suggest putting in your emergency kits some duct tape and plastic sheeting, for the specific case of an attack using chemical weapons, in which that attack would be located outdoors. Your goal will be to get inside a building in that situation and to the extent you can to seal off the air coming into that building. And, for that, duct tape and plastic sheeting can be helpful.

DHS NEWSWIRE: What else should go in that kit?

DAVIS: That's actually it -- that's our list for terrorist attack. That doesn't mean you shouldn't have other things for other types of emergencies. But the things needed for terrorist attack are the ones I just described.

DHS NEWSWIRE: You shouldn't have a month's worth of food and water?

DAVIS: For our purposes, we are looking for our immediate needs for our primary health and survival. That's where our focus was. Beyond that there will be many other kinds of disruptions and uncertainties in the situations that could follow. And for that, those kinds of emergency supplies you suggest could be quite helpful.

DHS NEWSWIRE: What about the way that most people know about DHS – the color code system. They have made moves to modify the color code system recently. Do you find it useful?

DAVIS: One of the things that we sought to do as we defined the best actions for each of these types of attacks was to evaluate them in terms of how useful they would be wherever we would find themselves -- that is at home, at work, at play -- but also for whatever level of alert. These steps are not a function of what the level of alert might be, but rather what you might need to do if an attack were to actually happen. And the preparatory steps are useful irrespective of the level of alert. It's just today's world. Just like if you live in California, you prepare for earthquakes.

DHS NEWSWIRE: Is the Department of Homeland Security – or any other government entity aimed at preparation -- doing an effective job of getting out information like yours, on what individuals can and must do to get ready? If not, why not?

DHS NEWSWIRE: Getting individuals to think about and prepare is a challenge for all types of emergency. Any type of emergency. And of course you and I will make those preparations on our own, and it will be a function of how inclined we are to prepare and how threatened we believe ourselves to be. And so in the end, those are the judgments. But when we held some focus group discussions of our recommendations when we were pursuing this analysis, what we discovered was that those in the group -- when we had ideas for what they might do -- were interested and ready to take the steps, in that the steps were simple and not that onerous and not that expensive. They were just some things to do that, once you understood what could help save your life, you are likely to do it.

DHS NEWSWIRE: By how much would you expect, by your steps, to decrease mortality and injuries resulting from an attack? And are any of your methods derived from historical example – like the London in the Battle of Britain, for example?

DAVIS: Unfortunately, we cannot tell you in those types of quantitative kinds of terms. What we can tell you is for each of these steps we carefully evaluated the effectiveness under different conditions, and used to the extent possible, analysis that had done, for example in spills of hazardous chemicals the effectiveness of moving inside, for example – which is our recommendation. And what they have discovered in carrying out actual tests and evacuations. We built our strategy and recommendations on the historical analysis and what other types of analysis are available and that's laid out in detail our report.

DHS NEWSWIRE: But is there any specific event that you remember looking at – Aum Shinrikyo, the bombing of London in WWII – anything that looked like a eureka moment of some kind? Or no?

DAVIS: In the case of an outdoor chemical attack, in which we recommend to get inside the closest building as quickly as possible, past analyses suggest that subjects gain about 75 percent of the protection that one can possibly gain from these attacks. And it is the case that those who were inside during the attack on Tokyo by Aum Shinrikyo were safer than those who were outside.

DHS NEWSWIRE: How did you come to research terrorism preparedness?

DAVIS: My background has been in international affairs. I've looked at terrorism and nonproliferation issues. I served as Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Affairs from 1993 to 1997. I came back to RAND and started working on a variety of different projects. And this one -- as I earlier suggested to you -- was an idea that first came to RAND and RAND said would I like to lead it. I led a team that included experts at RAND on various types of attacks, so that we built these scenarios. [We had experts in public health, experts in a range of issues.. We did what RAND is able to do. And that's put together a team of people with different experiences to try to answer a hard topic.

DHS NEWSWIRE: Back in the Cold War, especially the early Cold War, there were efforts made at exactly what you are doing: Preparing the public at large for attack.

DAVIS: What we wanted to do this time, with our recommendations, was to make sure they were founded in analysis that would be persuasive to experts and which individuals would then have confidence in undertaking, and with the knowledge that these steps would make a difference to their survival, even in the most catastrophic of terrorist attacks.

DHS NEWSWIRE: I'm speaking of the "duck and cover" steps of the past...people who were in the Southern US during the Cuban missile crisis, [the drills stuck with them the rest of their lives.

DAVIS: But again, one of the difficulties of those recommendations of the Cold War was that the experts -- for the types of attacks that were most likely -- found the recommended actions wanting, and therefore [the recommendations lost public support. We make these recommendations knowing they would be effective and therefore could gain the confidence of people.

DHS NEWSWIRE: During the Cold War, mass preparation went from "duck and cover" in the 50s to the late 70s revival of civil defense, but the second time the idea was to disperse urban dwellers into the countryside. Would such plans be realistic this time, again?

DAVIS: For the immediate dangers and those affecting our primary needs as individuals, we are not suggesting evacuation and some of those steps that have been bandied around. Our analysis leads to these specific recommendations, and the rejection of others, for the reasons we describe in the report. Driving out to the country en masse doesn't make sense for these types of attacks.

DHS NEWSWIRE: Thank you very much.

DAVIS: Thank you.

The full RAND report, and the "Quick Guide" with the individual strategies, are available at

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