Columbus, Georgia Office of Homeland Security website

Frequently Asked Questions

» What is terrorism?

» What is the difference between a chemical and biological weapon?

» What do terrorists target?

» How should the public prepare to deal with a terrorist incident?

» What should I do if I receive a bomb threat or if there is a building explosion?

What is terrorism?

Terrorism is the use of force or violence against persons or property in violation of the criminal laws of the United States for purposes of intimidation, coercion, or ransom. Terrorists often use threats to create fear among the public, to try to convince citizens that their government is powerless to prevent terrorism, and to get immediate publicity for their causes. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) categorizes terrorism in the United States as one of two types, domestic terrorism or international terrorism. Domestic terrorism involves groups or individuals whose terrorist activities are directed at elements of our government or population without foreign direction. International terrorism involves groups or individuals whose terrorist activities are foreign-based and/or directed by countries or groups outside the United States or whose activities transcend national boundaries.
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What is the difference between a chemical and biological weapon?

Biological agents are infectious microbes or toxins used to produce illness or death in people, animals, or plants. Biological agents can be dispersed as aerosols or airborne particles. Terrorists may use biological agents to contaminate food or water because they are extremely difficult to detect. Chemical agents kill or incapacitate people, destroy livestock or ravage crops. Some chemical agents are odorless and tasteless and are difficult to detect. They can have an immediate effect (a few seconds to a few minutes) or a delayed effect (several hours to several days). Were a chemical agent attack to occur, authorities would instruct citizens to either seek shelter where they are and seal the premises or evacuate immediately. Exposure to chemical agents can be fatal. Biological agents are organisms or toxins that have illness-producing effects on people, livestock, and crops. Because biological agents cannot necessarily be detected and may take time to grow and cause a disease, it is almost impossible to know that a biological attack has occurred. If government officials become aware of a biological attack through an informant or warning by terrorists, they would most likely instruct citizens via the Emergency Alert System (EAS) to either seek shelter where they are and seal the premises or evacuate immediately. A person affected by a biological agent requires the immediate attention of professional medical personnel. Some agents are contagious, and victims may need to be quarantined. Biological and chemical weapons have been used primarily to terrorize an unprotected civilian population and not as a weapon of war. This is because of fear of retaliation and the likelihood that the agent would contaminate the battlefield for a long period. The Persian Gulf War in 1991 and other confrontations in the Middle East were causes for concern in the United States regarding the possibility of chemical or biological warfare. While no incidents occurred, there remains a concern that such weapons could be involved in an accident or be used by terrorists. More information on Bioterrorism preparedness and response is available online from the Department of Health and Human Services Center for Disease Control.
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What do terrorists target?

Terrorists look for visible targets where they can avoid detection before or after an attack such as international airports, large cities, major international events, resorts, and high-profile landmarks. There are different types of terrorist weapons including explosives, kidnappings, hijackings, arson, and shootings.
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How should the public prepare to deal with a terrorist incident?

  • By adapting many of the same techniques used to prepare for other crises.
  • View our Be Prepared web page.
  • Be alert and aware of the surrounding area. The very nature of terrorism suggests that there may be little or no warning.
  • Take precautions when traveling. Be aware of conspicuous or unusual behavior. Do not accept packages from strangers. Do not leave luggage unattended.
  • Learn where emergency exists are located. Think ahead about how to evacuate a building, subway, or congested public area in a hurry. Learn where staircases are located.
  • Notice your immediate surroundings. Be aware of heavy or breakable objects that could move, fall, or break in an explosion.
  • Listen to the Emergency Alert System (EAS) broadcasts via radio or television.

Most stockpiling or preparedness suggestions are commonsense preparations for any sort of unexpected emergency. So, don't blow all your money on a fancy gas mask. There are more useful things to get, and even die-hard survivalists rank gas masks low on their priority list. For a list of suggested items view our Be Prepared page.
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What should I do if I receive a bomb threat or if there is a building explosion?

If you receive a bomb threat, get as much information from the caller as possible. Keep the caller on the line and record everything that is said. Notify the police and the building management. After you have been notified of a bomb threat, do not touch any suspicious packages. Clear the area around the suspicious package and notify the police immediately. In evacuating a building, avoid standing in front of windows or other potentially hazardous areas. Do not restrict sidewalk or streets to be used by emergency officials. In a building explosion, get out of the building as quickly and calmly as possible. If items are falling off bookshelves or from the ceiling, get under a sturdy table or desk.

If there is a fire:

  • Stay low to the floor and exit the building as quickly as possible.
  • Cover nose and mouth with a wet cloth.
  • When approaching a closed door, use the palm of your hand and forearm to feel the lower, middle, and upper parts of the door. If it is not hot, brace yourself against the door and open it slowly. If it is hot to the touch, do not open the door; seek an alternate escape route.
  • Heavy smoke and poisonous gases collect first along the ceiling. Stay below the smoke at all times.

If you are trapped in debris:

  • Use a flashlight.
  • Stay in your area so that you don't kick up dust. Cover your mouth with a handkerchief or clothing.
  • Tap on a pipe or wall so that rescuers can hear where you are. Use a whistle if one is available. Shout only as a last resort; shouting can cause a person to inhale dangerous amounts of dust.
  • Assist other victims if you can.

Untrained persons should not attempt to rescue people who are inside a collapsed building. Wait for emergency personnel to arrive.
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Department of the Columbus, Georgia Consolidated Government