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Terrorism is defined by the FBI as "the unlawful use of force or violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government; the civilian population, or any segment of it, in furtherance of political or social objectives." The objective of terrorism is not destruction or death - it is the psychological impact and resulting disruption to public services, economies, and social patterns.

Terrorism can be categorized as either domestic or international.

Domestic terrorism incidents are acts conceived of and carried out by U.S. residents within U.S. borders. Examples of domestic terrorism include the December 2015 mass shooting in San Bernardino, Calif., activities by environmental groups like the Animal Liberation Front (ALF), or the 1994 bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City.

International terrorism originates from groups based outside the U.S. and may be perpetrated against U.S. interests abroad or inside the United States. Examples of international terrorist organizations include Al Qaeda, ISIS/ISIL, and sympathizer groups.


Terrorist targets tend to be located in urban areas with venues such as seats of government, stadiums, and public meeting places. Terrorists target these areas to incite fear and produce substantial news coverage. Terrorist attacks come in many forms and may involve bombings, hijackings, assassinations, kidnappings, cyber attacks (computer-based), and the use of explosives, chemicals, biological agents, and nuclear or radiological weapons.

Terrorism breeds fear, frightens our families, and creates instability in our community. Many Americans don't understand vague directives from officials advising us to be "more vigilant" in our awareness of suspicious activity, and wonder what they can do to help themselves and their community. This is especially difficult when acts of terrorism foster a feeling of insecurity, helplessness, and most importantly, a feeling that you can't prepare for the possibility of a terrorist act.

  • Be aware of your surroundings. Move or leave if you feel uncomfortable or if something doesn't seem right.

  • Be observant and report suspicious activity to authorities. If you see what appears to be a dangerous situation, call 9-1-1 and explain your concerns to the call-taker. The call-taker will help determine what actions should be taken.

  • Take precautions when traveling. Be aware of conspicuous or unusual behavior. Do not accept packages from strangers. Do not leave your luggage unattended. You should promptly report suspicious behavior, unattended luggage or packages, and strange devices to law enforcement or security personnel.

  • Wherever you are, learn where the emergency exits are located, and how to quickly get out of a building, transportation corridor, or congested public area. Be familiar with secondary exiting systems, as primary exits may become clogged or blocked.

  • Be prepared to evacuate with your emergency supplies kit, or to shelter-in-place in your home or office.

  • Prepare for a building explosion:
    • Watch for suspicious packages.
    • Know the emergency evacuation procedures that are in place for the business or building.
    • Know where fire exits are located and be able to find them in the dark.
    • Learn where fire extinguishers are located and how to use them.
    • Know where disaster supplies are located.

  • Work with building management to ensure the following items are located on each floor of the building: portable battery-operated radio and extra batteries, flashlights and extra batteries, first aid kit and manual, hard hats, dust masks, and fluorescent glow-in-the-dark tape to rope off dangerous areas.

The recent mass shootings in San Bernardino, Calif., at Sandy Hook Elementary School, at a movie theater in Aurora, Colo., and in Paris all point to the need to plan for potential threats within our own communities. King County, along with many other public and private agencies, is working to better prepare for and prevent terrorism in our region. We want to help keep you and your family feeling and being safe in these uncertain times. Learn what you can do to survive in an active shooter event from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security: Run. Hide. Fight.

ReadyHouston produced a video with a realistic enactment of an active shooter event. This video may be disturbing. Viewer discretion is advised.

  • Listen to your NOAA weather radio or local media for current information.

  • Try to remain calm and be patient.

  • Do not call 9-1-1 unless you have a life-threatening emergency.

  • Follow the advice of local emergency officials. If advised to evacuate or shelter-in-place, do so immediately.

  • If the disaster occurs near you, check for injuries. Give first aid and get help for seriously injured people.

  • If the disaster occurs near your home while you are there, check for damage using a flashlight. Do not light matches or candles or turn on electrical switches. Check for fires, fire hazards, and other household hazards. Sniff for gas leaks, starting at the water heater. If you smell gas or suspect a leak, turn off the main gas valve, open windows, and get everyone outside quickly.

  • Confine or secure your pets.

If you receive a bomb threat:

  • Get as much information from the caller as possible.

  • Keep the caller on the line and record everything being said.

  • Notify the police and the building management.

If an explosion occurs:

  • Immediately get under a sturdy table or desk if things are falling around you. When they stop falling, leave quickly, watching for obviously weakened floors and stairways. As you exit the building, watch for falling debris.

  • Heavy smoke and poisonous gases collect first along the ceiling. Stay below the smoke at all times.

  • Leave the building as quickly as possible. Do not stop to retrieve personal possessions or make phone calls.

  • Once you are out, stand away from windows, glass doors and other potentially hazardous areas. Move away from sidewalks or streets that are to be used by emergency workers and others still exiting the building.

If you're trapped in debris:

  • If you have a flashlight, use it to signal rescuers.

  • Avoid unnecessary movement and stay in your area so you don't kick up dust.

  • Cover your mouth with a handkerchief or clothing.

  • Tap on a pipe or wall so rescuers can locate you. If possible, use a whistle. Shout as a last resort - shouting can cause a person to inhale dangerous amounts of dust.

If there's a fire:

  • Stay low to the floor and exit the building as quickly as possible.

  • Test closed doors for heat with your hand before opening. If the door is not hot, brace your body against the door and open slightly to check for fire or smoke. If the door is hot, seek an alternate escape route.

  • If you cannot escape, put as many barriers and space between you and the fire as possible.

  • If you have access to a phone, call 9-1-1 and report your location.

If biological agents are involved:

  • If you become aware of an unusual or suspicious substance nearby:
    • Move away quickly.
    • Wash with soap and water.
    • Contact authorities.
    • Listen to your NOAA Weather Radio or monitor local media for official instructions.
    • Seek medical attention if you become sick.

  • If you are exposed to a biological agent:
    • Remove and bag your clothes and personal items. Follow official instructions for disposal.
    • Wash yourself with soap and water and put on clean clothes.
    • Seek medical assistance. You may be advised to stay away from others or be quarantined.

Other types of events:

  • If chemicals are involved, see the hazardous materials section.

  • If the attack involves a nuclear blast or a radiological dispersion device (RDD) or dirty bomb, see the radiation hazards section.

Toll Free 1-800-523-5044

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