Terrorism and Homeland Security
Congressional Newsletter
Quarterly updates to Congress on RAND's work in Terrorism and Homeland Security

What Can Individuals Do to Prepare for and Respond to Catastrophic Terrorist Attacks?

cover of MR1731.2

Although there is a national security strategy for dealing with catastrophic terrorist attacks involving chemical, radiological, nuclear, or biological weapons, as individuals, we will largely be on our own when it comes to responding. Because most people are unfamiliar with the effects of such weapons, instinctive responses could lead potential victims into greater danger rather than safety.

To address this concern, the RAND Corporation took an empirical approach to developing a strategy for individuals. The result is a strategy—defined in terms of simple goals and rules—that an individual can adopt to prepare for and respond to different types of attacks. RAND’s strategy differs from the Department of Homeland Security’s Ready Campaign by recommending specific actions rather than requiring individuals to consider different alternatives.

Using scenarios for different types of attacks, researchers were able to dispel some misconceptions about surviving terrorist strikes. Individuals can protect themselves and much can be done to survive even the most catastrophic terrorist event. Also, there is no universal response: To be effective, responses have to be tailored and specific to the type of terrorist attack.

READ THE RESEARCH BRIEF: An Individual’s Strategy for Responding to Chemical, Radiological, Nuclear, and Biological Terrorist Attacks

READ THE POCKET EDITION SURVIVAL GUIDE: What You Should Do to Prepare for and Respond to Chemical, Radiological, Nuclear, and Biological Terrorist Attacks

READ THE QUICK GUIDE: Individual Preparedness and Response to Chemical, Radiological, Nuclear, and Biological Terrorist Attacks

Assessing How Terrorist Groups End

al Qa'ida

All terrorist groups eventually end—but how? To help answer this question, the RAND Corporation conducted the first systematic examination of how terrorist groups end, analyzing a comprehensive roster of terrorist groups that existed worldwide between 1968 and 2006.

The evidence indicates that terrorist groups rarely cease to exist as a result of winning or losing a military campaign. Rather, most groups end because of operations carried out by local police or intelligence agencies, or because they join the political process. Military force has rarely been the primary cause of a terrorist group’s end, and few groups in the study’s timeframe have achieved military victory.

This finding has significant implications for dealing with al Qa’ida and suggests that the nation should fundamentally rethink its post-9/11 counterterrorism strategy. The study shows that religious terrorist groups last longer than other groups, but that they rarely achieve their objectives. The largest terrorist groups achieve their goals more often and last longer than the smallest ones. Finally, groups based in upper-income countries are more likely to be left-wing or nationalist and less likely to be motivated by religion. The study concludes that policing and intelligence, rather than military force, should form the backbone of U.S. efforts against al Qa’ida. It also suggests that U.S. policymakers should stop using the phrase “war on terrorism,” since there is no battlefield solution to defeating al Qa’ida.

READ THE RESEARCH BRIEF: How Terrorist Groups End: Implications for Countering Al Qa’ida

Forthcoming Report:
Does the Nation Need a Dedicated Domestic Intelligence Agency?

Dept. of Homeland Security logo

In response to a Congressional mandate that tasked it to study the feasibility of creating a counterterrorism-focused domestic intelligence agency, the Department of Homeland Security asked the RAND Corporation to describe the considerations associated with creating such an agency, as well as the pros and cons of doing so.

In this forthcoming report, RAND finds the decision to create a new domestic counterterrorism intelligence agency is not a simple matter of adding up pros and cons. Rather, “break-even” analysis is needed to provide a systematic means of exploring how much a new domestic intelligence agency would have to reduce terrorism risk—given a presumed level of threat and estimates of agency cost—to justify its creation.


Lynn Davis

Lynn Davis

Lynn E. Davis is Director of the Washington Office and a Senior Political Scientist at the RAND Corporation. Her current research focuses on strategic planning, citizen preparedness, and Army strategic and force planning. From 1993-1997, Davis served as Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Affairs. Prior to joining the State Department, Davis was Vice President and Director of the Arroyo Center at RAND. She has also served on the staffs of the Secretary of Defense, the National Security Council, and the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. Davis has a PhD in Political Science from Columbia University.

Read more work by Dr. Davis »


Brian Michael Jenkins will present Will Terrorists Go Nuclear? today at 2:30 p.m. in 2325 Rayburn House Office Building. For more information and to RSVP, please contact Carmen Ferro at carmen_ferro@rand.org or 703-413-1100 ext. 5320.


Lindsey Kozberg
Vice President, Office of External Affairs

Shirley Ruhe
Director, Office of Congressional Relations

Carmen Ferro
Homeland Security Legislative Analyst

RAND Office of Congressional Relations
(703) 413-1100 x5395


More Congressional Resources on Terrorism

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