After 9/11, several studies aimed to capture the psychological footprint of the attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people. A landmark study conducted by the New York Academy of Medicine in 2004, Redefining Readiness: Terrorism Planning Through the Eyes of the Public, put the importance of anticipating behavioral response plainly: “Research shows that even if the nation gets all of the [logistics, equipment, and preparation] right, the plans that are being developed now are destined to fail because they are missing an important piece of the puzzle: how the American public would react to these kinds of emergency situations.”
Research shows elevated levels of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in those living in New York City and the surrounding area months after the 9/11 attacks; an article in the Journal of Nervous & Mental Disease revealed that Americans exposed to television coverage and images of the terrorist attack also suffered symptoms of PTSD.
More recent terror attacks have resulted in similar behavioral responses. Following the Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida, in June 2016 that left 49 people dead, several first responders reported suffering from symptoms of PTSD. Months after the attack, many responding law enforcement officers had yet to return to work because of the severity of their symptoms, The New York Times reported in October 2016.
When properly diagnosed, these victims can receive help from their organizations, communities, and medical professionals. Last year, for example, approximately 400 victims and first responders affected by the 2015 Paris terror attacks were given the opportunity to participate in a clinical trial aimed at curtailing their PTSD symptoms, The International Business Times reported in April 2016.
Understanding key human factors will create a solid foundation for organizational counterterrorism planning. These concepts can help security practitioners mature and validate their plans against the behavioral impact of terrorist attacks, enhancing plans, procedures, and exercises.
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