Awaiting Armageddon, Part 1: Top Threats

Megan Lynch (@MLynchOnAir)

ST. LOUIS (KMOX) – The United States is a nation on edge.

We’re reeling from political turmoil in America and geopolitical shifts worldwide. Terrorist attacks and economic collapse top a long list of fears reported by Americans.

And it’s not just paranoia — experts say these are very real possibilities.

Some people paint bleak pictures where public services are knocked out, our police and military are crippled, and it’s every man, woman and child for themselves.

As we begin a week of special reports on KMOX, Megan Lynch looks at the reasons why these groups are Awaiting Armageddon.

We face a multitude of threats. In the last year, we’ve seen devastating natural disasters and frightening lone wolf attacks.

“We do have adversaries that are out to take down the United States …”

Cybersecurity expert James Norton on last year’s breach of a Northeast power grid: “The U.S. government and Congress woke up to the fact that we are under cyberattack.”

When it comes to the dangers facing this nation and our region, cyberthreats top the list for Dr. Burcu Pinar Alakoc, assistant professor of International Relations at Webster University.

Alakoc tells KMOX it could be a keyboard that cripples us.

“Internet based attacks, that goes anywhere from stealing classified information to destroying or disabling computer systems.”

Will it be Russia, China, North Korea, Iran or another entity that uses our technology against us?

“There could nation states behind these attacks, there can be individuals, and the one thing is of course, governments don’t necessarily want to bear responsibility for their own nationals,” Alakoc says.

Next on the threat list — a recent U.S. House report says the United States is facing the biggest Islamic terror threat since 9/11, much of it from individuals radicalized within our borders.

“There is not one type of terrorism anymore, there is not one type of perpetrator. We don’t only talk about terrorist organizations, but we also talk about lone wolf terrorists,” Alakoc says. “Our enemy no longer has a name or a clear identity, which makes it very difficult to deter these attacks and it makes it very difficult to fight against these attacks.”

Beyond suicide bombs and computer hacks, Americans say they also fear biological warfare. Yet disaster and chaos aren’t always man-made.

“Mother Nature is always best at being a biological terrorist,” says Dr. Alexander Garza, vice president for medical affairs and Chief Medical Officer for SSM Health St. Louis. “If you look at all of the recent challenges we’ve had with biological agents in the past 10 years, they have all come from just a natural progression of human disease.”

Garza’s perspective comes as the former Chief Medical Officer to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. He led the department’s response to the H1N1 flu pandemic.

“It’s really sort of the emerging infectious disease or these naturally occurring infectious diseases that I think are more of a high risk for us as the general public than any of these more deliberate attacks,” he says.

There’s another ticking time bomb that may trump all other threats.

Nick Gragnani, executive director of STARRS – the St. Louis Area Regional Response System – says we’re sitting right on top of it.

“The worst-case scenario – the overall threat – is the earthquake threat. That would be the one that would impact the entire area in some way, some level,” he says.

If the big one hits, it could trigger a cascade of other disasters.

How much would our first responders and emergency agencies be able to help us?

“The bottom line is this — you will be your own responsibility,” Gragnani says.

It’s hard to know how well disaster plans work, until something catastrophic happens.

How agencies are Awaiting Armageddon in Part Two.

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