Vulnerability of People

Some possible terrorist agendas involve more-or-less direct assaults on human life as a primary objective. These include the following:

  • Bombing of human assemblies at sporting events and other mass gatherings;

  • Attacks on large cities using nuclear weapons;

  • Assaults on toxic/explosive storage and production sites;

  • Assaults on water systems;

  • Bombing of mass-transit systems, particularly at rush hour;

  • Bombing of hospitals and day-care centers; and

  • Biological, chemical, and radiological contamination.

Attacks such as these blend into attacks that involve the possibility of human deaths but whose primary objective is to disrupt institutional functions and social processes. Examples of the latter type of attack include the following:

  • Destruction of reservoirs;

  • Disruption of transportation and distribution systems; and

  • Disruption of energy systems.

Still other types of assault do not involve expectations of physical casualties but may inflict incidental harm on humans:

  • Disruption of financial and market institutions;

  • Disruption of communication, data, and identification systems; and

  • Assaults on symbolic targets such as the Statue of Liberty or the Washington Monument.

Institutional, Group, and Political Vulnerability

Understandably, our initial impulse in thinking about the human consequences of terrorist attacks is to envision casualties—the numbers of people killed or wounded, as well as the emotional wounds to their families and loved ones. But there are several other dimensions of societal vulnerability as well, springing from the fact that not only is society made up of people but that people are organized in relation to one another in complex ways.

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