Transportation Terrorism and Crime: Deterrence, Disruption, and Resilience

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Terrorists continue to find transportation an attractive target and weapon for destruction
March 19, 2020
San José, CA

Although still relatively rare, ground transportation terrorism has been a threat both domestically and abroad. As witnessed in several separate incidents, some terrorists have adopted vehicle ramming as an attack method; likely because it can be carried out by an individual (or “lone wolf terrorist”) with little to no specialized training. Having previously analyzed the popularity of this terror method, the Mineta Transportation Institute (MTI) conducted research to identify best practices to mitigate and respond to terrorist tactics against transportation assets, with an emphasis on vehicle ramming attacks in the report Transportation, Terrorism, and Crime: Deterrence, Disruption, and Resilience

In a previous MTI report, researchers traced the rising trend in such terrorist attacks across several countries. These findings, combined with the current study, help law enforcement agencies prepare their communities, create mitigation measures, conduct effective surveillance, and respond quickly to attacks.

Through extensive literature review, field research in places where terrorist attacks and other emergencies have occurred, and interviews with first responders and witnesses, report authors Dr. Frances Edwards and Daniel Goodrich identified the following:

  1. A vehicles’ ability to be turned into a self-destructive weapon makes it appealing to attackers;
  2. Vehicles are easy to acquire and use with ample targets at the ready in pedestrian-heavy streets or crowds;
  3. Detailed documentation on previous responses to terrorist activity are needed for law enforcement personnel to become more adept at responding to a variety of attacks; and
  4. Law enforcement’s disruption of previous terrorist methods using infiltration and monitoring tactics led to attackers opting for minimally manned attacks, like the “lone wolf” method used for vehicle ramming.

MTI Senior Transportation Security Scientist, Daniel Goodrich, encourages “a constant inventory of terrorist strategies and tactics and the counterterrorism steps used successfully against them.” He goes on to encourage “a historical documentation and periodic trend analysis to determine best practices against evolving or re-emerging terrorist threats.”


At the Mineta Transportation Institute (MTI) at San Jose State University (SJSU) our mission is to increase mobility for all by improving the safety, efficiency, accessibility, and convenience of our nation's’ transportation system. Through research, education, workforce development and technology transfer, we help create a connected world. MTI was founded in 1991 and is funded through the US Departments of Transportation and Homeland Security, the California Department of Transportation, and public and private grants. MTI is affiliated with SJSU’s Lucas College and Graduate School of Business.


Dan Goodrich is the Senior Transportation Security Scientist at MTI, a Certified Emergency Manager, a Master Exercise Practitioner, a Professional Continuity Practitioner, and a Certified Security Specialist. Dr. Frances Edwards is professor and director of the Master of Public Administration program at San José State University, and Deputy Director of the National Transportation Security Center at MTI.



Irma Garcia, MTI Communications & Workforce Development Coordinator



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