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Enhancing Public Resilience to Mass-Casualty WMD Terrorism in the United States: Definitions, Challenges, and Recommendations

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Conference paper

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This paper concerns how to enhance public resilience to mass-casualty terrorist attacks with weapons of mass destruction WMD in the United States. It aims to develop an actionable definition of public resilience, i.e., one that can be related to specific policy choices. It identifies how U.S. Government decision-makers can take advantage of human factors both to reduce the harm done by attacks and to reduce the appeal of these attacks to terrorists. These roles are respectively described as defense through resilience and deterrence through resilience. We treat public resilience as those qualities of the public that mitigate both its vulnerability to direct, physical harm after an attack and its vulnerability to the indirect effects of an attack, which are driven by the experience of fear, threat, and traumatic stress. Actual mass-casualty WMD terrorism has yet to occur, but research on the most similar events-conventional mass-casualty terrorism and strategic bombing campaigns-has identified a variety of psychological, behavioral, and socialpolitical effects, some with potentially severe consequences. These effects include traumatic stress disorders, major depression, and other psychiatric consequences protracted self-evacuation from urban areas, which can intensify the deleterious psychological, social, and economic consequences of an attack the initiation or intensification of civil violence the initiation of international armed conflict in pursuit of revenge and loss of support for the present form of government. We identify three major elements of public resilience 1 the publics sense of comprehension of events, which moderates fear of the unknown 2 the publics sense of control of events, which moderates feelings of dread and 3 the publics social resources, which buffer feelings of fear and threat. The first two areas are more clearly amenable to policy interventions than the third.

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  • Nuclear Weapons

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