Is the U.S. prepared for another terrorist attack?

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28 February 2016

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In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of 9/11, securing the country has become a national priority. The events of 9/11 were the first attacks on the United States (U.S.) since Pearl Harbor which catapulted the U.S. into World War II. As of the writing of this paper, the U.S. has been engaged in the War on Terrorism for 13 years. During this period of time the U.S. has been kept free from terrorist attacks by changes to laws, technology, and investigative methods to combat terrorism internationally. Although there have been a number of changes to U.S. law and American citizens have been kept safe, the threat of terrorism has not abated. With the continued threat of terrorism to the U.S. and its citizens, there is a high probability that the U.S. will suffer another 9/11 type of event. The U.S. has shown its resolve in recovering from 9/11 and the many natural disasters that have occurred since and is preparing for incidents in the future. There is a plethora of information and studies conducted after 9/11 that, in great detail, informed us to the extent we failed to prevent the events of 9/11. Ironically, in the years after the creation of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) many academics feel we are no safer now than we were prior to 9/11. In a historical context, the U.S. has been reactive in nature to every major catastrophe it has endured.

The cycle of disaster events has repeated itself over and over throughout our history. The U.S. experiences a major response event, fails in the initial response and recovery efforts, endures congressional investigations, obtains funding to fix the failures, execute the recovery effort, and return to a complacency mentality until another major event occurs. The purpose of this paper is to address the question of the U.S. readiness in the event there is another terrorist attack. I plan to focus on the aspect of preparation, reforms, and interagency coordination before and after the next terrorist attack. This paper will argue that the preparation for a terrorist attack is required; it’s not a question of how an attack is orchestrated. The question is the U.S. prepared for another terrorist attack and recovery? Literature Review

In Perry’s (2001) analysis he explains the actions that the U.S. needs to take in preparation for the next attack. The articles’ publication is under the premise of a worst case scenario as it pertained to terrorism in 2001. The primary focus of the article was the U.S. preparation for any delivery method terrorist organizations could provide. There was a concern that terrorist organizations could/would buy nuclear weapon platforms from rogue Soviet BLOC nations. The only way these attacks could be thwarted was by the mix of three strategies: deterrence, prevention, and defense. The ability for the U.S. to use conventional forces to deter enemies needed to be maintained as well as the intelligence community with an aggressive campaign against nations that sponsor terrorism.

In the article, The Next Attack, Flynn (2007) provides a framework in which terrorist organization detonates a bomb at an oil refinery, near Philadelphia’s Citizen Bank Park, that results in the release of a chemical cloud comprised of chemicals used in the refinery process. The cloud kills thousands over a ten day period as a result of breathing the fumes. In the aftermath of 9/11 the U.S. government concluded there was no way they could protect every essential asset and chose to specifically defend critical infrastructure networks. It was believed that terrorists would only attack large targets that they could get the biggest return on investment.

Flynn took a very critical view of the U.S. government’s response to compiling a list of high value targets that needed protection, “It wasn’t rocket science to figure that out, and it took five years to complete.” Flynn further explained a need for manufacturing industries to utilize safer production methods known inherently as safer technology. The technology has a higher cost, but Flynn does an impressive cost comparison that the change-over could cost nationwide for around $250 million, which is what was being spent daily on the war in Iraq.

In Interagency Coordination in Response to Terrorism: Promising Practices and Barriers Identified in Four Countries (Strom and Eyerman 2007) is an article that examines our nation’s ability to prepare, respond, and recover from terrorism hinging on multiagency coordination. The focal point of the article is the explanation of the problems that existed pre-9/11 and the progress law enforcement agencies and public health agencies have in coordination with each other across multiple jurisdictions and countries. The article explains in detail the coordination problems that occur when two or more agencies are involved in the same incident. There is a competition for command and control, funding, redundant system and processes across multiple agencies.

Two primary problems that were noted were the inability for all agencies to achieve an interoperable communications system to aid in interagency cooperation. The second problem is barriers to communication ranging from coordination and cultural barriers and the lack of proactive information sharing among multiple agencies. The authors noted several changes that needed to occur in order to be successful. The primary focus falling on ceasing interagency competition for funding as this has created fraud, waste, and abuse across multiple U.S. agencies. The second focus was fostering a liaison model and incorporating public-private partnerships as individual companies have systematically been delegated the responsibility of protecting their own businesses. Methodology and Research Strategy

The literature review has produced some excellent talking points that may show the U.S. government is not prepared for another 9/11 terrorist attack. This paper will review the readiness of the U.S. in preparation for the next terrorist attack and the ability to respond to that attack. My research will be qualitative in method and analysis in an attempt to produce a respectable projection of the U.S. readiness for the next terrorist attack. After reviewing twelve Scholarly articles or books the following question is presented. Is the U.S. prepared for another 9/11 terrorist attack? Findings In the pre-9/11 article: CatastrophicTerrorism: Elements of a National Policy, Carter explained that the U.S. was not taking the threat of terrorism, as they had known in that generation, seriously (Carter, Deutch and Zelikow 1998). In the aftermath of the embassy attacks in Kenya and Tanzania which killed hundreds Carter did not feel that the U.S. government was committed to address terroristic threats nor was it suitably prepared for a catastrophic terrorist event.

Carter gave a prophetic warning that a catastrophic event was plausible in 1998. Terrorist networks were no longer hiding in the shadow as they did during the Cold War. The Preventive Defense strategy, at that time, was outdated. Terrorist networks were embracing change, embedding with organized crime syndicates, drug and human traffickers, and money laundering which created the basic infrastructure of a terrorist organization. During this same time frame we saw the effects of globalization in the Sub-Sahara Africa as it folded in on its self and created lawless safe havens for terrorist organizations to freely operate. Carter predicted a catastrophic terror event would be a watershed event in U.S. history that would change law, challenge personal liberties, and ultimately make terrorism the focus of our national defense strategy (6). Carter and his team were virtually ignored until 9/11.

In the aftermath of 9/11 Zelikow sat on the 9/11 Commission. Many of the findings that the 9/11 Commission determined came from the 1998 article. Ultimately, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) creation was in response to the large number of listed intelligence and operational failures among U.S. governmental agencies. These failures were over classification of intelligence, lack of information sharing, interagency competition in investigations, and multiple agencies conducting the same redundant tasks to name few. During DHS’s inception twenty- two federal agencies and 170,000 employees, which specialized in various disciplines ranging from law
enforcement to disaster mitigation, were pulled under the control of DHS in order to streamline information sharing and overall interagency cooperation.

In the years that followed many studies and reports to congress on the DHS suggest that the organization needed to be reformed due to over-all mismanagement and lack of any institutional control over the multiple agencies. The primary reason for concern is the organizations layer of bureaucratic red tape and political appointees who lack the ability and structural knowledge are hampering the Secretary of Homeland Defenses ability to lead U.S. security efforts (Carafano and Heyman, DHS 2.0: Rethinking the Department of Homeland Security 2004).

The DHS has a leviathan sized mission as it pertains to keeping the U.S. safe from terrorist activity. In 2003 report, Major Management Challenges and Program Risks: Department of Homeland Security, the Government Accounting Office (GAO) reported the DHS was a high risk organization for three reasons. First, the organization is too large to manage efficiently. The DHS creation is in response to the events of 9/11 without having a command structure properly planned. Second, among the 22 agencies under the DHS umbrella, there was a large amount of discord, strife, and competition before the merger. The merger did not quell the conflict, it actually added to the competition for funding and resources. Third, these failures expose the U.S. to other possibilities in regards to terrorism (Governement Accounting Office 2003).

The GAO further outlines what DHS needs to do to alleviate some of the existing challenges they face now and in the future. DHS must effectively integrate discording agencies in order to foster an environment of partnerships and working environments. DHS must adopt and use public and private partnership business methods, as most of the protection Flynn mentioned earlier has fallen on the private sector and the dependency of first responders. “The private sector controls 85 % of the critical infrastructure in the nation. Indeed, unless a terrorist’s target is a military or other secure government facility, the first responders will almost certainly be civilians” (9/11 Commission 2004).

Finally, the DHS infrastructure must incorporate the maximum use of its brightest and best individuals and must foster interagency cooperation among multiple organizations and countries simultaneously (pg. 1).

Since 9/11 the U.S. has not experienced another 9/11 terrorist event, one could assume the DHS and the U.S. War on Terror is having a significant impact on terrorist activity. In 2011, The Heritage Foundation reported 40 terrorist plots had been thwarted since 9/11due to the efforts of DHS employees and power granted under the PATRIOT Act (Carafano and Zuckerman, War on Terrorism: 40 Terrorists Attacks Foiled Since 9/11 2011). Although the PATRIOT Act granted law enforcement agencies nationwide powers and abilities they did not have pre 9/11, the agency has stonewalled terror attacks on U.S. soil, and it is still failing at multiple levels.

At this point, it would not be wise to assume the U.S. is 100 percent safe from terror attacks or more importantly the ability or readiness to respond to one. The DHS track record for responding to natural disasters in the U.S. is poor, at best. One example is the DHS response to Hurricane Katrina. By the time Hurricane Katrina had made landfall the DHS had not established the roles and responsibilities that the public and private sectors would play in the survival and recovery of New Orleans, even though the energy and shipping facilities had been considered, “national critical infrastructure for which the U.S. government should take substantial responsibility in the event of a disaster” (Military Technology 2005). This is where Flynn related this wasn’t rocket science; it just was not completed in a timely manner.

There have been a number of theories for the dysfunction of the DHS as it pertains to disaster response. One primary theory is DHS does not have its priorities straight. DHS creation in response to the attacks of 9/11, with its primary focus being on prevention of future attacks. DHS thought process can be seen as one sided as 75 percent of the 3.35 billion in Federal grants were designated for counter-terrorism activities (pg. 104). Additionally, DHS was charged with not fully notifying local and state leaders about the magnitude of the event and many mass-causality centers were diverted to Iraq and Afghanistan leaving the homeland under sourced.

Of the 22 agencies that fall under DHS the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has borne the brunt of the fallout in responding to disaster events. Prior to 9/11 FEMA held a cabinet level position within the Presidential Cabinet and responded to incidents with competence, ability, and utilized lessons learned to prevent the same mistakes in the future. Under the authority of DHS, FEMA lost its cabinet level position, lost independent funding, and FEMA’s competency and performance decreased significantly.

Further adding to the dysfunction within the DHS and FEMA’s ability to respond to incidents are the political ramifications of power sharing between the Federal government and state agencies. In response to Hurricane Katrina, the Federal government to include the Department of Defense, the Department of Justice, and the White House could not determine if utilizing Active Duty would violate the Posse Comitatus Act. The DHS and White House did not want to take Constitutional rights away from the states. This delay furthered much needed assistance to the hardest hit areas of the Gulf Coast. WAL-MART had a quicker response time of getting much need supplies into New Orleans but was unable to do enter and provide assistance due to the bureaucratic boondoggle in Washington (Abouo-Bakr 2013).

In 2007 and 2009, “FEMA participated in a national-level exercise aimed at assessing U.S. capacity to prevent, prepare for, respond to, and recover from a large-scale disaster” (Busch 2012). In the following months after these training exercises it was reported FEMA did not effectively manage, track, or maintain and failed to complete less than 40 percent of corrective actions noted (pg. 18). FEMA also failed to provide a training outline to address the corrective actions to ensure the mistakes made and lessons learned could be used at future training events in preparation for real life responses to disasters.


The U.S. has thwarted terrorist attacks on the U.S., on both foreign and domestic fronts, since the historic events of 9/11. The additional powers granted to the DHS under the PATRIOT Act have aided law enforcement agencies and anti-terrorism activities in the War on Terrorism. The question is not how well the DHS prevents future attacks; it is a question of when the next attack will happen and how will the U.S. respond.

In order for the DHS to become successful the Secretary of Homeland Defense must coordinate organizational and logistical support across all 22 agencies. The monetary focus of the DHS must be distributed equally along the other agencies supporting the relief efforts in the event another terrorist event occurs on U.S. soil. The DHS must foster an environment that encourages employees to create Private Public Partnerships (PPP). These partnerships must have a clear and concise plan and all players involved must have a clear understanding of their roles and responsibilities as it pertains to information and resource sharing during a response to a terror event.

The relationship between the DHS and PPP must foster long-term projects and must initially come from within the DHS. FEMA should be removed the organizational tree of DHS and have its cabinet level position re-established and given the ability to meet directly with the President of the United States and all emergency response assets nationwide. FEMAs ability must be restored to pre-9/11 levels in order to meet all future natural disasters or terrorist attacks. The USG must network with the private sector and ensure the plans created do not hamper their bottom line and ensure the cost/risk ratio is sufficient to stock holders in the private sector.

The DHS and FEMA have applied some of the lessons learned in past response efforts and Congress has turned some of them into law. The two most important laws will assist FEMA in emergency management. First, the head of FEMA must be an emergency management professional and have least five years executive experience. Second, during a disaster, the lines of communication between the President and FEMA are open without interruption from the DHS (King, et al. 2009).

The changes to law were a small step for FEMA but now allow them to coordinate with all organizations along the National Incident Management System and the National Response Framework. Both of the programs describe how multiple players from the lowest level to the Director of FEMA how they should work together in response to an incident. Both of these programs are balance to react to an incident whether it is a terrorist event or a natural disaster, but they still have a long way to go.

The DHS prevents attacks well but at times fails miserably in response efforts due to interagency shortfalls. Until there is a balance between the efforts carried out in the War on Terror and the response efforts after an event the U.S. will not be prepared for the next attack.

9/11 Commission. The 9/11 Comission Report. July 26, 2004. (accessed 12 29, 2013). Abouo-Bakr, C. Managing Disasters through Public-Private Partnerships. Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 2013. Busch, Jason. “FEMA Falters in Self-Improvement.” News Network, November 2012: 18. Carafano, James, and David Heyman. DHS 2.0: Rethinking the Department of Homeland Security. Special Report SR-02, Washington: The Heritage Foundation, 2004. Carafano, James, and Jessica Zuckerman. War on Terrorism: 40 Terrorists Attacks Foiled Since 9/11 . September 7, 2011. (accessed 12 24, 2013). Carter, Ashton B,, John M. Deutch, and Philip D. Zelikow. Catasrophic Terrorism: Elements of a National Policy. Visions of Governance for the Twenty-First Century, John F. Kennedy School of Government, 1998. Flynn, Stephen. “The Next Attack.” The Washington Monthly, March 2007: 31-37. Governement Accounting Office. Major Management Challenges and Program Risks: Department of Hoeland Security. Series Report, Washington: United States General Accounting Office, 2003. King, Peter, et al. “Keep FEMA within Homeland Security.” January 14, 2009.

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"Is the U.S. prepared for another terrorist attack?" StudyScroll, 28 February 2016,

StudyScroll. (2016). Is the U.S. prepared for another terrorist attack? [Online]. Available at: [Accessed: 5 December, 2023]

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"Is the U.S. prepared for another terrorist attack?" StudyScroll, Feb 28, 2016.

"Is the U.S. prepared for another terrorist attack?" StudyScroll, 28-Feb-2016. [Online]. Available: [Accessed: 5-Dec-2023]

StudyScroll. (2016). Is the U.S. prepared for another terrorist attack?. [Online]. Available at: [Accessed: 5-Dec-2023]

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