Human responses need to be examined at four distinct stages of the attack process: (1) anticipatory attitudes, emotions, and behavior; (2) responses to warnings; (3) immediate responses to the attack itself; and (4) recovery. The remainder of this chapter addresses each of these stages in turn.


The possibility of terrorist attacks on the United States has been appreciated for decades, and before September 11 there had in fact been an accumulation of incidents abroad (e.g., bombings of embassies, the attack on the USS Cole) and at home (the Unabomber, the Oklahoma City bombing, the bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993). However, September 11 brought the nation dramatically into an “age of terrorism,” and it conditioned reactions to all that might follow. Public apprehension is now much greater than before, and reactions to future terrorist events will be strongly affected by the memory of September 11 and its aftermath.

Preparedness for attacks involves two sets of actors—the responsible authorities and the population in general. Government preparation should attempt to be exhaustive and conditional—trying to anticipate every conceivable kind of attack, understanding probable ripple effects, thinking in terms of multiple attacks, preparing proper responses for agents who would give out information in crisis situations, detailing the roles of first-line response agencies such as police and rescue agencies, and developing a range of backup responses to contain damage and minimize future damage. These measures also call for new levels of cooperation among government entities, the media, schools, businesses, hospitals, churches, and other entities large and small, including households. Applied research on all these aspects of preparedness, conducted in advance, would be a wise investment.

In general, each relevant social unit in the country (communities, cities, states) should make an informed effort to establish priorities for preparedness efforts based on its most likely vulnerabilities. And while each unit should prepare well for a range of possible assaults, it should not try to prepare for all conceivable kinds of assaults. To invoke an analogy, it makes sense for California cities to prepare for earthquakes and fires in the dry season, but not for tornadoes and hurricanes; it makes sense for some Southern states to prepare for the latter two but not the former two. Similarly, cities should prepare for a different range of terrorist activities than agricultural regions. Each unit should establish its priorities by devising scenarios for the attacks most likely to affect it. In devising these scenarios, the units should consult widely not only within their ranks but also with units at other levels, both above and below.

It is likely that the following general principles will hold with respect to how the populace anticipates an attack:

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