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Response Considerations When Vehicles Become Terrorist Weapons

Response Considerations When Vehicles Become Terrorist Weapons


By Randall Hanifen
Contributor, EDM Digest

In the past year, several international events have occurred when criminals have used vehicles as weapons. While those attacks are international at this time, it is possible that the United States could experience copycat or coordinated attacks in the next few months.

But as first responders, how do we respond to such an attack? What are the primary response considerations?

First Response Consideration: Assessing the Attack Scene

While the use of vehicles to hit people is not new for either firefighters or police, using vehicles to create a terrorist attack is relatively new. Dispatch may not have the whole picture at first, as many panicked citizens with cell phones will unintentionally overwhelm a 911 emergency call center. People in a panicked state are not the best at fully describing the situation or they may not have all the relevant information that first responders require.

Because of these circumstances, extra time is needed to fully grasp the overall situation. If the terrorist attack occurred on a city block, did the vehicle turn and go down another street and hit more people in another location?

Also, what type of vehicle did the attacker use? Tractor-trailers or moving trucks could haul large amounts of explosives without anyone outside the vehicle knowing of the explosives’ presence until detonation.

While the same type of explosion can occur within a car, the amount of the explosive that a car can carry is far less and the blast effects are reduced.

In any case, all vehicles in the area should be checked for explosives. Explosives in a nearby vehicle may be a trap to kill first responders.

Second Response Consideration: Number of Victims

Once the attack scene is safe for first responders and the public, it is then necessary to conduct initial triage and get the proper resources to the scene. While dispatchers should be able to ascertain information about the number of victims and their injuries from initial reports, first responders need to perform their own triage at the attack scene.

Third Response Consideration: Protecting the Scene

If terrorists do not use explosives, they may use another vehicle to hit additional citizens and responders. First responders can avert this type of attack by completely blocking the area with fire trucks and parking police cars on the sidewalks to prevent an attacker’s vehicle from going around the fire trucks. While this procedure might make the removal of victims cumbersome, it also can prevent the loss of a first responder.

Fourth Response Consideration: Plan Ahead

To effectively protect first responders and the public before, during and after a terrorist attack, it is necessary to think like a terrorist. Be sure to plan ahead, be nosey and be prepared to employ a secondary response plan.

American Military University


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