Systems and Technologies as Means of Attack, Targets, and Means of Response

Key elements or infrastructures of our society can serve as means of attack, targets, and means of response.

  • Means of attack include weapons of mass destruction (nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons).

  • Targets include key systems such as transportation systems and the electric-power grid.

  • Means of response include critical technologies for responding to attacks, such as telecommunication systems for coordinating the actions of emergency personnel and the public health system for treatment of victims.

While some systems and technologies can be classified roughly in one or another of these categories (i.e., nuclear weapons are primarily means of attack and energy systems are primarily targets), most systems and technologies fall into multiple categories. For example, air transportation is both a target and a means of attack.

This report looks at a collection of systems and infrastructures and in each area focuses on identifying solutions—specific ways of reducing vulnerabilities to catastrophic terrorism—that are achievable through the application of science and technology. The areas are as follows:

  • Nuclear and radiological threats;

  • Human and agricultural health systems, including topics such as bioterrorism, medicine, and public health;

  • Toxic chemicals and explosive materials;

  • Information technology, including communications, data management, and identification and authentication systems;

  • Energy systems, including electrical power systems and oil and natural gas systems;

  • Transportation systems;

  • Cities and fixed infrastructure, including buildings;

  • The response of people to terrorism, including how quality of life and morale of the population can be a target of terrorists and how people respond to terrorist attacks;

  • Complex and interdependent systems, including linked vulnerabilities, modeling, and simulation. (This category covers the vital interdependencies of different infrastructures. For example, the energy distribution system depends on an IT system to control its functions. Because modeling and simulation are necessary for predicting the responses of society’s complex and interrelated infrastructures to terrorist attack, the most important disciplines in this area are systems analysis and systems engineering.)

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