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This paper examines the emergency response to a terrorist attack on an urban area by viewing it as a system that is vulnerable to disruption. It focuses on the critical aspects of emergency response that are at risk of being impeded by an attack on the computer or telecommunications networks of the emergency responders themselves. It examines the possible cybertactics a terrorist group may use to amplify the effects of a physical attack by limiting emergency response.


In any emergency there is a wide array of critical information that is central to an effective response. Some of this information is general in nature and commonly possessed by highly trained emergency response units, but much of it will be specific to the time, location, and type of attack. This critical information forms the input information that any emergency response system must possess to effectively respond to the situation.

This critical information includes, but is not limited to, building blueprints and city utility plans, crisis response plans, chemical cleanup procedures, treatments for specific biological or chemical agents, duty rosters and personnel contact information, individual victim medical records, and public announcements. One of the frustrating aspects of emergency preparation is how much detailed situation-specific information becomes critical to operational success. There is a wide array of different, relevant kinds of information, and some of these data inputs are voluminous.

By its nature a cyberattack will be against the content, accessibility, or flow of critical information. Because some of the needed information is incident specific, some information is accessed in (close to) real time. Because the attacker is aware of the specifics of the attack, and can deduce what information will be most helpful to responders, prearranged corruption of this information is a threat.


Urban areas are especially vulnerable to high-profile attacks because of the concentration of people, resources, and critical infrastructure in a small area. Hence most urban areas in the United States have developed emergency response plans that define how the various emergency services and government agencies will interact and work together during a crisis. For Washington, D.C., this plan was created by the D.C. Emergency Management Agency and is titled the District Response Plan (DRP).1 The DRP describes how D.C. agencies will


This plan is available on the D.C. Emergency Management Agency web site:,a,1226,q,533529,dcemaNav,|31810|.asp.

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