In the Wake of Terror, is it Safe to Travel? | Web version

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April 22, 2016

Homeland Security

In the Wake of Terror, is it Safe to Travel?

Tourists leave from the Enfidha international airport in Sousse, Tunisia, June 27, 2015, after being evacuated following a terrorist attack on the beach

Photo by Zohra Bensemra/Reuters

Major terrorist events in the United States and Europe, like the most recent attacks in Brussels and Turkey, generate fear among the public and prompt swift responses from public officials. These reactions reflect a belief that if there is one attack, others may soon follow. But how does this conventional wisdom stack up to the evidence? Does a significant terrorist attack inspire other terrorist attacks?

To find out, RAND researchers examined the historical record of terrorism in the United States and Europe between 1970 and the end of 2013. Using the Global Terrorism Database, researchers found

  • an absence of multiple terrorist events following large attacks since 1994
  • no increases in terrorism on significant dates or anniversaries of historical attacks
  • an overall decline of terrorism in the West since the 1970s.

These findings suggest that the threat of terrorism should not affect individuals' behavior in the United States and Western Europe—not even in the wake of a significant terrorist event.

What might these findings mean for enhanced security measures frequently put into effect after an attack? Despite the lack of evidence that additional attacks may follow, enhanced security may be justified to enable authorities to respond quickly to increased reports of suspicious activity and hoaxes that terrorist events sometimes inspire. Increased police presence also permits authorities to diagnose and intervene more rapidly if there are further incidents. Moreover, temporary security increases may be warranted as a precautionary measure, even if only to reassure an alarmed public that it is safe.

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For questions or to discuss this project, please contact Laura Patton.

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