IF TERRORISTS STRIKE AGAIN, ARE WE PREPARED?
by MANUEL CEREIJO
We will present here nine possible scenarios of terrorist attacks, showing the degree of difficulty, likelihood, and damage. The order where they are exposed is arbitrary.
NUCLEAR BOMB IN A CONTAINER OR BOX
Difficulty: Very high. Likelihood: Very small. Damage: High number of casualties, an unknown number of delayed deaths from cancer. Billions of dollars in damaged property and stalled international trade. Technological solution: Combined gamma ray and radiation scans of every container would help, but they are expensive and could slow shipping worldwide.
The bomb in a box scenario is perhaps the worst of all terrorist threats. A small atomic device detonated in a port facility would kill thousands of people within hours. Such an attack, in a major international port facility, could paralyze global trade, since 90% of international cargo now travels in standardized containers.
BLACKOUT OF MAJOR POWER PLANTS
Difficulty: Very small. Likelihood: About 70%. Damage: Several thousands killed or injured. $ 7 billion US for the blackout only. Technological solution: There are none for preventing attacks. Techniques for rapidly restoring the grid would help.
Not much would prevent terrorists from taking down the North American power grid. With about 300,000 kilometers of transmission lines and countless vulnerable nodes crisscrossing the United States and Canada. Especially vulnerable are the high-voltage transformers that step voltage down from transmission levels, typically above 100 kilovolts, to distribution voltages in the tens of kilovolts.
There are about a thousand of these units in the United States, most of them located at substations that are secured by only a chain-linked fence. Any one of these transformers could be knocked out of action quickly and easily with rocket-propelled grenades or improvised explosive devices. Terrorists could use the blackout to attack innocent civilians traveling over bridges, or mass transit systems
POISON GAS ATTACK
Difficulty: 40%. Likelihood: 70%. Damage: 100,000 dead, potentially many more injured or incapacitated.
A crowd could be gathered in a Mall, for an event, and terrorist could release chlorine gas at one mile from them, and the gas could be carried there by the wind. Possibly in 30 minutes the advancing plume would cover much of the gathered crowd, killing some 20% of them. A plume’s shape depends on wind and terrain. It spreads only about one meter for every 5 meters that it advances.
Explosives, poison gas, and highly inflammable chemicals are carried by railroad in our nation. Poison gas cargoes are held under pressure, so a large hole in the tank will empty it quickly. A smaller one will also do the job, but very slowly.
AGRO ATTACKDifficulty: very small. Likelihood: 90%. Damage: Ruined farmers. Hundreds of millions of animals killed. Hundreds of billions of dollars lost. Foot-and-mouth disease is caused by a virus that is harmless to people yet spreads quickly among cloven-hoofed animals. It is one of the most transmissible diseases known to veterinary science. It will get the cow sick, and by the time the disease becomes obvious, it will have infected other cows, especially given the intensive nature of modern agriculture. Cuba is possibly the country with more scientists and research experience in this area.
Difficulty: 90%. Likelihood: 20%. Damage: 100 dead, more than 42 billion for a replacement 500,000 barrel-per –day refinery.
It is not easy to destroy a whole refinery.. They are huge, usually covering several square kilometers. An adjoining tank farm typically stores several hundred thousand barrels of crude oil.
Oil refineries clearly want us to believe that their facilities are secure. But any perimeter can be breached. Is it impossible? No. Is it unlikely? Yes.