How Would You Attack?

Freakonomics Blog

Over on the Freakonomics blog, Steven D. Levitt asks the thought provoking question, what would you do to maximize terror if you were a terrorist with limited resources. Readers’ responses to the post were a mixed bag of terror suggestions and hate mail. In a follow-up post, Levitt says that, “The people e-mailing me can’t decide whether I am a moron, a traitor, or both.”

Personally I think it’s an interesting topic, and not one that will give “the terrorists” any ideas they never had before. Hopefully it will provide those in charge of terrorist prevention and response to be better prepared in the event of domestic terror attacks.

In Canada, I think the biggest vulnerability to terrorism would be if they took out a couple of train bridges and brought Canadian commerce to a stand-still.

Because of the layout of the country (something like 80% of our population lives within a couple hours of the border) the transportation networks run basically east to west. I”ve been told there are only two main lines that run parallel across the country. A huge percentage of our goods arrive via sea in Vancouver and are shipped across the country by train. Disabling the tracks in the middle of the country would cripple this process, and doing so probably isn”t much more complicated than a couple of properly placed explosives.

Removing just two very vulnerable bridges, one in Medicine Hat and another in Edmonton, would be enough that virtually no goods could travel across Canada. I have no idea how long it would take to rebuild a train bridge, but it would definitely be the worst terror attack in our country’s history.

So what could be done to prevent such an attack? Building bomb proof bridges is not exactly an option. Putting up security guards around the bridges probably would work, but who wants to pay for that — not to mention the fact that because on any given day the chances of a terrorist strike against the bridges is so slim, it might be ineffective anyway unless the guards are always particularly vigilant.

I guess the best I can do for peace of mind is try not to think about it.

Update: Levitt’s third post on terrorism.