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Professor and Urban Terrorism Expert Publishes Research Based in Boston

18 April 2013 | 1:47 pm By:

College of Charleston Political Science Professor Kevin Keenan, an expert on urban terrorism in the United States, has spent the past several years researching Boston’s vulnerability to a terrorist attack. Now, days after bombs went off at the Boston Marathon (April 15, 2013), Keenan’s research will be available to the public in the journal Urban Geography.

Keenan, along with publication co-author Susan Hanson (Clark University) studied the prompts that cause people to talk about terrorism.  They built on previous research that showed that when people talk about terrorism, they become less fearful and more rational.  Keenan and Hanson conducted 93 in-depth, in-person interviews with a random sample of people in Boston, Massachusetts, and 18 interviews with public safety officials in the greater Boston area.

They concluded that discussions about terrorism at home and work differed in topic, that women discussed terrorism more frequently and in greater depth than men, and that women typically discussed preparations for the home, while men discussed preparations for external locations. They also noted that “specific places, ranging from prominent buildings and worksites to selected thoroughfares, sparked discussions about terrorism that, in turn, might have the effect of reducing people’s fear of terrorism.”

“This is a novel finding,” Keenan explains. “The information we learn is likely to be different based on our gender, resulting in different networks of knowledge that may ultimately influence survival rates for men and women during and after a disaster.  Further, fear generated by places has power only when we remain silent about it, so it is important to promote dialogue about terrorism, especially given the nature of the recent attacks which were in an everyday place without evident political or symbolic meaning.”

Keenan and Hanson noted that this information could help build urban resiliency. They recommend having messages about terrorism in multiple places: home, work, public centers. By “understanding how and with whom people talk about terrorism, policymakers can promote conversations that advance rational understandings of risk, support appropriate mitigation activities, and ultimately build greater ability for individuals and communities to respond to and recover from terrorist attacks.”

Read more in the School of Humanities and Social Sciences blog.

For more information, contact Kevin Keenan at

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