UC Expert Details Terrorism Risks to Student Audience

"It can't happen here."

University of Cincinnati terrorism expert Ed Bridgeman calls those the most dangerous words he hears these days in his educational efforts with fire and police departments around the Midwest. Few expect they'll have to deal with terrorism firsthand. "What have we been doing? We're taking the ostrich approach of burying our head in the sand, not only to terrorism, but to chemical and biological (dangers)," Bridgeman said.

Bridgeman, chair of the criminal justice program at UC's Clermont College, is an internationally known expert on terrorism. He spoke on West Campus Thursday to a student audience as part of the Graduate Seminars on the Environment series, presented by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and UC.

The first part of the lecture gave background on terrorists' tools and motivations, the second dealt with the current U.S. posture towards more potential attacks.

Bridgeman explained that terrorism is a different kind of crime, because the violence is not aimed at victims but at the larger audiences who are watching. It is also appealing to ideological or religious extremists because it can be done relatively cheaply in comparison to conventional weapons.

The phrase currently in vogue, WMD or weapons of mass destruction, now has a more descriptive alternative, B-Nice. That stands for the kinds of weapons that make up WMD, including biological, nuclear, incendiary, chemical and explosive. Explosives are still the first choice of terrorists, but biological weapons are the class that worries Bridgeman the most.

He believes that if al-Qaeda tries to strike the United States again, that attack will be in the form of a chemical or biological strike. "I think al-Qaeda has gone as far as it can with conventional weapons," Bridgeman told the students. "For their next major attack, they'll try chemical or biological weapons. They're already trying, such as in Rome, where they went down into the sewers and tried to get cyanide into the water pipes feeding the U.S. Embassy, and the group that was just arrested in Great Britain, that had (the poison) ricin in its possession."

He offered a small note of comfort when it came to local readiness. "We are lucky in this part of the state, because Emergency Management agencies in Butler, Hamilton and Clermont counties are very well prepared. We are in better shape than a lot of places in the country."

He also said the fledgling homeland security organizational efforts could well be looking to students like those in UC's environmental engineering and health program to help the country guard against future terrorism.

"Homeland Security is looking to recruit a lot of people," he said. "The first level they're dealing with are the first responders, but the next level will be people with some kind of knowledge. Those will be medical students or other students (with expertise) who can be recruited into a civilian corps that will have specific (security) responsibilities."

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