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Terrorism FAQ's


Michigan's Comprehensive Response

The September 11 attacks and subsequent events have created an intense focus on emergency preparedness and on the preventive measures being implemented to protect our citizens.  While the risk in Michigan is very small, every citizen has a duty to be vigilant, to have a heightened sense of awareness and to be prepared.  The information in this document will help people all across Michigan understand what government is doing to respond as well as what they can do to safeguard their families. 

What is Michigan doing about the threat of terrorism?

Terrorism is being addressed on many fronts in Michigan at federal, state and local levels. The Michigan State Police (MSP) is spearheading state government's response.

The Michigan State Police investigates suspected or potential criminal enterprises and activities – including those that involve terrorism – and works to prevent criminals from perpetrating acts of terror in the first place.  In fact, prevention is our number one priority.  In addition, the MSP (in conjunction with other state agencies) continuously prepare to respond to terrorist incidents through its emergency planning, training and exercising efforts. Many state agencies, including the state departments of Military Affairs, Environmental Quality, Transportation, and Community Health, have a critical role to play in Michigan's response and recovery plans.

The MSP Emergency Management Division (EMD) is responsible for coordinating the state's response to a wide range of emergencies and disasters, both natural and manmade.  While familiar hazards such as floods, tornadoes, chemical spills, wildfires, and winter storms continue to threaten public health and safety in Michigan, terrorism involving the use of nuclear, biological or chemical weapons of mass destruction (WMD) have recently emerged as serious and disturbing threats.

Recognizing that the state needs the ability to respond to terrorist events involving the use of Weapons of Mass Destruction, a WMD Regional Response Team Network (RRTN) was formed. The RRTN provides quick response capability to WMD/terrorism incidents and coordinates resources and expertise at local, state and federal levels across a wide range of disciplines. Additionally, the resources of the local teams and communities are supplemented with the Michigan Department of State Police contributing the resources and response of its Emergency Support Team and Bomb Squad.

In conjunction with the State Police special teams, the Michigan Urban Search and Rescue (MUSAR) organization is also a critical response asset. Michigan Urban Search and Rescue, is a privately funded organization working in cooperation with the fire service, local emergency management, the Michigan Department of State Police and private sector agencies. MUSAR's role is to provide a statewide capability for specialized response to structural collapse emergencies and incidents requiring specialized training in search and rescue. Michigan Urban Search and Rescue is prepared to respond with specialized resources. 

Local governments are also preparing for a wide range of emergency situations. Local law enforcement, fire, public works, and emergency medical agencies and personnel are being trained in how to properly respond to potential terrorism incidents. In addition, communities are developing plans and procedures for such incidents, and then testing those plans and procedures in disaster exercises centered on terrorist activities.  Many businesses – especially larger ones that could potentially be a target of terrorism – are developing and testing internal emergency plans and procedures and training personnel in anti-terrorism methods. These combined efforts of government, business and individual citizens form the cornerstone of Michigan's continuing fight against terrorism.

As a concerned citizen, I would like to help. What can I do?

Look to help in your local community.  Each county in Michigan has an emergency management program that works closely with local volunteers to deal with unmet needs in disaster situations.  In New York, as in many recent disasters, the outpouring of support is commendable but can become chaotic quickly when volunteers are not trained, coordinated and managed properly.  Working within your local emergency management and support groups is a great way to get trained and give back to your community.  Click here to access Emergency Management Division's website for a complete list of local emergency management programs, including contact names and phone numbers.

Is Michigan at risk of a terrorist attack?

Terrorist incidents involving weapons of mass destruction (WMD) pose a growing threat to the security of the United States, including Michigan. 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. Learn more about the nature of terrorism to protect yourself and your family. One way governments attempt to reduce our vulnerability to terrorist incidents is by increasing security at airports and other public facilities. You can prepare to deal with a terrorist incident by learning about and adapting many of the same techniques used to prepare for other emergencies.

Preparing and Protecting Your Family

What can I do to be prepared?

Create an emergency communications plan

Choose an out-of-town contact your family or household will call or e-mail to check on each other should a disaster occur. Your selected contact should live far enough away that they would be unlikely to be directly affected by the same event, and they should know they are the chosen contact. Make sure every household member has e-mail addresses and telephone numbers (home, work, pager and cell) for the contact and each other. Leave these numbers at your children's schools and at your workplace. Your family should know that if telephones are not working, they need to be patient and try again later or try e-mail. Many people flood the telephone lines when emergencies happen but e-mail can sometimes get through when calls don't.

Establish a meeting place

Having a predetermined meeting place away from your home will save time and minimize confusion should your home be affected or the area evacuated. You may even want to make arrangements to stay with a family member or friend in case of an emergency. Be sure to include any pets in these plans, since pets are not permitted in shelters and some hotels will not accept them.

Assemble a disaster supplies kit

If you need to evacuate your home or are asked to "shelter in place," having some essential supplies on hand will make you and your family more comfortable. Prepare a disaster supplies kit in an easy-to-carry container such as a duffel bag or small plastic trash can. Include "special needs" items for any member of your household (infant formula or items for people with disabilities or older people), first aid supplies (including prescription medications), a change of clothing for each household member, a sleeping bag or bedroll for each, a battery powered radio or television and extra batteries, food and water and tools. It is also a good idea to include some cash and copies of important family documents (birth certificates, passports and licenses) in your kit. Click here to visit the Red Cross web page for more information.

What if my children are at school during an emergency?

In an emergency, your children may be sheltered in place or evacuated from school. If protective actions are being taken at your children's school, do not go to the school. School personnel are trained to handle emergencies.  Do not call your child's school. You could tie up a phone line that is needed for emergency communications.  For further information, listen to local emergency radio and TV stations to learn when and where you can pick up your children.

Chemical Emergencies

What do I need to know about chemical emergencies?

A major chemical emergency can release a hazardous amount of a chemical into the environment.  These accidents sometimes result in a fire or explosion, but many times you cannot see or smell anything unusual.

Some chemicals that are safe, and even helpful in small amounts, can be harmful in larger quantities or under certain conditions. Chemical accidents do happen . . . at home and in the community.

You may be exposed to a chemical in three ways:

1. Breathing the chemical

2. Swallowing contaminated food, water, or medication

3. Touching the chemical, or coming into contact with clothing or things that have touched the chemical.

Here is what you can do to protect yourself and your family from such exposure.

How will I be notified of a chemical emergency?

In the event of a major chemical emergency, you will be notified by the authorities. To get your attention, a siren could sound, you may be called by telephone, or emergency personnel may drive by and give instructions over a loudspeaker. Officials could even come to your door. Listen carefully to radio or television emergency alert stations (EAS), and strictly follow instructions. Your life could depend on it.

You Will Be Told:

  • The type of health hazard
  • The area affected
  • How to protect yourself
  • Evacuation routes (if necessary)
  • Shelter locations
  • Type and location of medical facilities
  • The phone numbers to call if you need extra help.
  • Do not call the telephone company, and do not call EMS, 9-1-1, or the operator for information. Dial these numbers only for a possible life-threatening emergency.

What types of protective actions could be used?

Shelter in Place

One of the basic instructions you may be given in a chemical emergency is to "shelter in place" – a precaution to keep you and your family safe while remaining in your home. If you are told to shelter in place:

Take your children and pets indoors immediately. While gathering your family, you can provide a minimal amount of protection to your breathing by covering your mouth and nose with a damp cloth.

  • Close all windows in your home.
  • Turn off all fans, heating and air conditioning systems.
  • Close the fireplace damper.
  • Go to an aboveground room (not the basement) with the fewest windows and doors.
  • Take your Family Disaster Supplies Kit with you.
  • Wet some towels and jam them in the crack under the doors. Tape around doors, windows, exhaust fans or vents. Use the plastic garbage bags to cover windows, outlets, and heat registers.
  • If you are told there is danger of explosion, close the window shades, blinds, or curtains. To avoid injury, stay away from the windows.
  • Stay in the room and listen to your radio until you are told all is safe or you are told to evacuate.


Authorities may decide to evacuate an area for your protection. Again, it is important to stay calm, listen carefully and follow all instructions. If you are told to evacuate, listen to your radio to make sure the evacuation order applies to you and to understand if you are to evacuate immediately or if you have time to pack some essentials. Do not use your telephone.  If you are told to evacuate immediately:

  • Move quickly and calmly  and take the following with you:
  • Your Family Disaster Supplies Kit and medications
  • A change of clothing for each member of the family
  • Medication, eyeglasses, hearing aids or dentures, or things like canes and walkers
  • Personal items such as toothbrushes, deodorant, etc.
  • Items for your baby such as diapers, formula, or baby food
  • Books, puzzles or cards and games for entertainment.
  • Close and lock your windows
  • Shut off all vents
  • Lock the door

Do not assume that a shelter will have everything you need. In most cases, the shelters will provide only emergency items such as meals, cots, and blankets. You do not need to turn off your refrigerator or freezer, but you should turn off all other appliances and lights before locking your home as you leave.

Check on neighbors to make sure they have been notified, and offer help to those with disabilities or other special needs. If you need a ride, ask a neighbor. If no neighbor is available to help you, listen to the emergency broadcast station for further instructions.

Take only one car to the evacuation site. Close your car windows and air vents and turn off the heater or air conditioner. Do not take shortcuts because a shortcut may put you in the path of danger. For your safety, follow the exact route you are told to take.

Preventing Biological Terrorism

What is biological terrorism?

Biological terrorism involves the deliberate use of biological weapons or devices intended to spread disease-producing organisms or toxins in food, water, by the use of insects, or as an aerosol. The impact of a biological weapon would depend on the characteristics of the pathogen or toxin, the design of the weapon or delivery system, the environment in which it is used, and the speed and effectiveness of the medical and public health response. 

Across the nation, local, state, and federal authorities are putting capabilities in place to improve the ability to detect abnormal public health problems rapidly.  As the normal cold and flu season arrives in the next few months, please do not jump to the conclusion that you have been infected with a biological agent if you begin to feel achy or have the sniffles. 

How easy would it be for terrorists to disperse a biological agent effectively?

Terrorists cannot count on just filling the delivery system with agent, pointing the device, and flipping the switch to activate it. Biological agents have extreme sensitivity to sunlight, humidity, pollutants in the atmosphere, temperature, and even exposure to oxygen, all of which can kill the microbes.

What is being done to protect the public from bioterrorism?

The Michigan Department of Community Health (MDCH) has in place a bioterrorism preparedness plan that has been funded through a multi-year grant of approximately $1.5 million per year, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for stronger public health preparedness for bioterrorism.

Michigan has been preparing for how to respond in the event of a bioterrorist attack and much work has already been accomplished.  Working cooperatively with the Michigan State Police, FBI, local health departments, Michigan National Guard, Emergency Medical Services representatives, Poison Control Centers, area physicians and hospitals, MDCH continues to focus on this extremely important area. 

The CDC funding has allowed Michigan to enhance our ability to respond to acts of bioterrorism across the entire state.  This includes coordinating emergency management activities, enhancing disease detection and reporting, improving biological and chemical laboratory capacity and enhancing Michigan's health alert network. 

Should I buy a gas mask?

No.  The Michigan Department of Community Health is not recommending the purchase of gas masks.  While there has been a great amount of media attention on biological and chemical terrorism, the threat is still low. 

For complete protection with a gas mask, it would need to be worn all day, every day.  To wear a mask continuously or "just in case" a bioterrorist attack occurs, is impractical, if not impossible. Further, a gas mask is a specialized piece of equipment that requires training and a correct professional fitting to ensure proper protection.

To work effectively, masks must be specially fitted to the wearer, and wearers must be trained in their use.  This is usually done for the military and for workers in industries and laboratories who face routine exposure to chemicals and germs on the job. Gas masks purchased at an Army surplus store or off the Internet carry no guarantees that they will work.

More serious is the fact that the masks can be dangerous if worn incorrectly.  There have even been reports of accidental suffocation when people have worn masks incorrectly.