RAND Advises Individuals on Actions to Protect Themselves in a Terrorist Attack

For Release

September 10, 2003

RAND today unveiled a strategy of simple steps that individuals can take to protect themselves from the harmful effects of potential terrorist attacks involving chemical, radiological, nuclear, and biological weapons.

Sponsored by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, a RAND research team with a variety of technical, health, and policy backgrounds developed the steps by analyzing possible terrorist attack scenarios and the ways individuals can act to improve their chances of survival.

The strategy is presented in a new RAND report, “Individual Preparedness and Response to Chemical, Radiological, Nuclear, and Biological Terrorist Attacks,” and is also summarized in a 33-page Quick Guide.

Both the report and guide include a fold-out reference card that lists the essential elements of the strategy. The Quick Guide and the reference card are designed to be read by ordinary citizens as a part of personal safety preparation.

The reference card can be easily carried in a pocket, purse or bag or can be set on a desk at work or shelf at home. It can be ordered from RAND or printed off the RAND Web site.

The strategy defines overarching goals for individuals subjected to chemical, radiological, nuclear and biological attacks, and contains advice on reaching those goals. The goals are:

  • Chemical attack—find clean air very quickly.
  • Radiological attack—avoid inhaling dust that could be radioactive.
  • Nuclear attack—avoid radioactive fallout. Evacuate the fallout zone or, if not possible, seek best available shelter.
  • Biological attack—get medical aid and minimize further exposure to agents.

“In seeking to understand the effects of an attack from an individual's perspective, we put ourselves in the situations to see what needs we would have and then what could be done,” said Lynn E. Davis, the report's lead author. “We found that even in the most dangerous of attacks, our needs were relatively few and could be met by keeping in mind a set of overarching goals and following some simple rules.”

In these types of terrorist attacks, individuals are likely to have to act on their own and very quickly.

“We found that in most cases, the few minutes immediately following an attack, before professional emergency responders are likely to arrive, are critical to survival,” said Tom LaTourrette, another author of the report. “Our recommendations are intended to help people act rationally to protect themselves while they are waiting to learn more and for authorities to arrive.”

Critical to any response is rapidly assessing the type of attack that has occurred. The strategy provides basic guidance about how to quickly make that determination by explaining the characteristics of different types of attacks. It goes on to define an overarching goal and then specific actions that individuals would take in response to each type of attack. Finally, the strategy sets forth those essential preparatory actions necessary to respond to the different types of terrorist attacks.

While a terrorist attack is a horrific and chaotic event, following the recommended strategy can save lives, even in catastrophic terrorist attacks.

Being prepared for terrorist attacks is similar to being prepared for other disasters, such as hurricanes or earthquakes. However, the effects of chemical, radiological, nuclear, and biological weapons are unfamiliar to most people, and the instinctive responses of many people could lead them into greater danger. Consequently, individual preparedness is an important component of our national efforts to defend against terrorism, the report says.

In launching its Ready campaign, the Department of Homeland Security has taken an important step in raising awareness of the importance of individual preparedness. The RAND study complements and further develops the Ready campaign objectives, as presented on the Web site www.ready.gov.

The report issued today was prepared by RAND's Public Safety and Justice unit, which conducts a wide array of research covering law enforcement, terrorism preparedness, immigration, emergency response and management, sentencing and corrections policy, firearms, community violence, and drug policy and substance abuse.

Other authors of the report are David E. Mosher, Lois M. Davis and David R. Howell, all of RAND.

Printed copies of “Individual Preparedness and Response to Chemical, Radiological, Nuclear, and Biological Terrorist Attacks: A Quick Guide” (click to order ISBN: 0-8330-3487-1) and “Individual Preparedness and Response to Chemical, Radiological, Nuclear, and Biological Terrorist Attacks” (click to order ISBN: 0-8330-3473-1) can be ordered from RAND Distribution Services (call toll-free 877-584-8642 in the U.S., 310-451-7002 from outside the U.S.).

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