Recognizing that their actions may be mistaken for accidents, terrorists often take pains to establish connection by attacking more than one target at a time. There are many examples. On a September Sunday in 1970, four planes were simultaneously hijacked over European countries and flown to airports in Jordan and Egypt (a fifth attempt was foiled). In an alleged action by Sikh separatists, the only way that the explosion of an Air India plane off the Irish coast could be connected to the terrorists was by the fact that another Air India plane had been blown up in Japan an hour earlier. The “double strike” by otherwise anonymous terrorists was used in the bombing of the U.S. embassies in Nairobi and Tanzania in 1998. Just last August, Indian authorities announced that Osama bin Laden and others had been indicted for attempting dual bombings of U.S. embassies in Delhi and Dhaka.
      Terrorists have learned to plan news coverage of their acts. It seems certain that the September 11 perpetrators recognized that. By sending in the first plane 18 minutes ahead of the second, they guaranteed that cameras would be rolling for their morbid “television spectacular.” The third plane striking the Pentagon underlined the message, as would the fourth, had its attempt not been foiled by the passengers. A different technique of “news management” was used by Ted Kaczynski in his demand that newspapers print the “Unabomber” manifesto in return for ending his violence. In both cases the terrorists figured out how to send their message out via media to which they would otherwise be denied access. McVeigh paid similar attention to media coverage. He told his biographers that the Murrah building stood out by itself in such a way as to make for a good picture. He dressed for the media by wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with a famous Thomas Jefferson quotation: “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” Because McVeigh wasn’t arrested in front of the cameras, his T-shirt message was not reported to the general public, until it was entered into evidence at his trial nine months later.
      Unfortunately, the higher the death toll, the greater the attention given to the terrorists. The attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and the Murrah building were all timed during the workday to ensure high body counts. Timing also guaranteed that the largest audience possible would spend the day transfixed to the intended messages. With news providers on 24/7 schedules, the shock waves from the attacks spread around the world continuously and commercial-free via TV, radio, web site, and print, as well as by informal means via the Internet, cell phones, and other hand-held communications devices. It’s important that we recognize the high degree to which terrorists understand the communications process. They are creating 21st-century propaganda intended to terrify mass audiences into submission.

Joan Deppa, a professor of newspaper and visual and interactive communications in the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, is principal author of The Media and Disasters: Pan Am 103.

Improving Building Safety

Our primary responsibility as licensed architects and engineers is the protection of life. Collapse of the World Trade Center (WTC) due to prolonged extreme heat might have been delayed, but not prevented. The destruction was a result of predictable sequential structural failure. Understanding this phenomenon is critical for rebuilding our cities.
      The process of building the WTC involved orchestration of zoning, financiers, the Port Authority, and planning boards. Although built to minimum code and safety standards, the idea was to maximize rentable space under zoning law (10 million square feet). Each tower had only three fire stairs, narrow by today’s standards. Floor assemblies had 3-hour minimum fire ratings. Initial failure, here, occurred within 1.5 hours.
      How then can safe evacuation design be constructed?
      While code required a minimum of 4-hour fire protection at columns and 3 hours between floors, the minimum at fire stairs was 2 hours. Fire egress systems, stair widths, and fire-rated assemblies must be increased, providing adequate evacuation time. Independent of these, emergency entry systems must be installed. We must eliminate the “grandfather” clause in tall buildings, because compliance is essential for safety. Future city planning will be based on what becomes law today. Buildings must optimize environmental quality and life safety egress.

—Theodore M. Ceraldi, professor and
coordinator of technology,
School of Architecture


The collapse of the World Trade Center towers will change the way we build our landmarks, which unfortunately may become potential targets for terrorist attacks. The jet-fuel fire brought the Twin Towers down. Engineers will have to adopt stricter fireproof requirements. Fire exit design and emergency evacuation policies need to be re-evaluated, too. Sadly, we might be entering an era where blast resistance may have to be considered in design of highly occupied civil structures.

—Riyad S. Aboutaha, professor, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, L.C. Smith College of Engineering and Computer Science


The destruction of the World Trade Center will affect architectural and structural design. The spans created to allow for flexible space utilization compromised the structure’s safety. It was fire—not the aircraft impact—that threatened the structure. Steel buildings are designed to resist fire for a limited time. Fortunately, new composite materials are emerging. Risk management and the vulnerability of buildings to random loads must be included in the design process. Codes should reconsider fire protection and the height of buildings. Our students should be made aware of these new challenges to prevent future disasters.

—Ivan Markov, professor, School of Architecture

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