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A scared man sitting under a spotlight.

U.S. residents believe a subway or railway bombing is the most likely terrorist activity, with 84 percent expecting such an attack within the next four years, according to University of Minnesota economists.

Paying more to prevent terrorism

From eNews, April 20, 2006

Nearly 98 percent of U.S. residents believe there will be another terrorist attack in their lifetime and that more than one-half believe at least one attack will occur within the next five years, according to a recent survey by economists at the University of Minnesota. The national survey, "How Should America's Anti-Terrorism Budget Be Allocated?," which polled 4,200 people on their attitudes about terrorism, also showed that the public is willing to spend more money than is currently allocated by the state and federal governments to prevent future terrorist attacks.

The survey found that U.S. residents believe a subway or railway bombing is the most likely terrorist activity, with 84 percent expecting such an attack within the next four years. While deliberate contamination of the food system was considered the least likely of the potential terrorist attacks covered, still 44 percent of U.S. residents expect an attack on the food supply chain within the next four years. About one-half of those surveyed expect terrorists to hijack another aircraft, destroy a national monument, disrupt the power grid, or release a toxic biologic or chemical agent in a public place.

"The survey findings are sobering, even if we adjust for the fact that public concerns may have been heightened following the London subway bombings [in July 2005]," says Tom Stinson, associate professor of applied economics and coinvestigator on the survey. "Even when possible attacks on trains or subways are excluded, more than 80 percent expect at least one more terrorist attack in their lifetime and 55 percent believe that at least one of each type of incident would occur."

While the food supply chain was thought to be the least likely potential target, U.S. residents believe that a greater percentage of anti-terrorism spending should go to protect the food supply than to protect against any of the other types of terrorism included in the survey. Protecting against the release of a chemical or biological agent in a public area was also viewed as a high priority area.

"These results show the American public expects their food supply to be well protected," says Jean Kinsey, codirector of the University of Minnesota's Food Industry Center and coinvestigator on the survey. "The food industry has worked hard to keep accidental contaminants from entering the food supply chain. Consumers obviously expect the same kind of effort to be made to protect against deliberate contamination."

U.S. residents believe anti-terrorism spending should go to protecting the food supply (19 percent), preventing the release of chemical or biological weapons (19 percent), preventing aircraft hijackings (17 percent), protecting other forms of transportation (17 percent), protecting the power grid (15 percent), securing national monuments (8 percent), and other areas (5 percent).

Current federal spending emphasizes securing the airways, where more than $5 billion is spent. Substantially smaller amounts are devoted to securing other potential targets of attack.

"The percentage differences are small, but they amount to real money," says Stinson. "Assuming that what we currently spend on airline security is right, the public thinks we should be spending more than $5.5 billion to protect the food supply chain, and another $5.5 billion to protect against a chemical or biological attack. Federal spending today to protect against terrorism in those two key areas is nowhere near that amount."

The survey was funded by the National Center for Food Protection and Defense, a Department of Homeland Security Academic Center of Excellence.

For more information and the complete survey, visit the U's Food Industry Center.