Lawrence, Andover-area Fires, Explosions: Nichols Counterterrorism Expert Shares Perspective

Dr. Allison McDowell-Smith, director of Nichols College’s Counterterrorism Studies graduate program

DUDLEY, Mass. — Sept. 13, 2018 — Regarding the fires and gas explosions in Lawrence, Andover, and North Andover, below is a statement from Massachusetts-based counterterrorism expert Professor Allison McDowell-Smith, Ph.D., director of Nichols College’s Counterterrorism Studies graduate program. Nichols College is in Dudley, Mass. She’s available tonight to speak with a reporter.


While public safety officials are investigating the fires and gas explosions in Lawrence, North Andover, and Andover and don’t have enough information to determine their cause, we need to be thinking that terrorism is a possibility. Before we can react to this incident (whether it’s terrorism or not), terrorists are taking notice of this event and realizing how simple it is to take out an entire city’s utility grid and use it to inflict terror upon thousands of innocent individuals. What if they choose to do this in a more populated city, such as Boston? We are not prepared.   

As of the 9 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, press conference, Governor Charlie Baker and the mayors of the impacted cities stated it is still an active scene, and they are mandating evacuations within the specified areas. Columbia Gas has yet to turn off the gas, while National Grid has turned off power. Governor Baker hesitated on the question as to whether there would be any more potential explosions tonight. He finally concluded that based on the facts officials have, they don’t anticipate any more explosions yet are still actively concerned.

We have to be aware that as a society, acts of terrorism can impact our utilities. Not once did anyone ask and/or did the press briefing speakers address this potential threat. Media have reported that the FBI is on site due to routine procedure regarding explosions. The FBI is also called in to investigate any potential acts of terrorism.

The media further reported that the gas explosions were due to highly pressured gas lines. However, the Governor, mayors or fire chiefs have yet to confirm this statement — and if it is true, why? Andover’s fire chief shared that the scene looks like “Armageddon.” There were more than 70 fires/explosions and thousands of people impacted. Residents are still being advised to stay away. We have three cities in blackout conditions just outside of Boston — a major U.S. city — just two days after the 9/11 anniversary. If we remember the goal of terrorists: to incite fear in the public. If it was a utility worker who over-pressured the gas line, was it intentional?

These are the questions that we need answered ASAP. 

The Master of Science in Counterterrorism Studies is the first graduate program in the United States to focus on violent extremism.


Lorraine U. Martinelle
Director of Public Relations and Social Media
Nichols College  |  Learn. Lead. Succeed.
124 Center Road, Dudley, Mass.
Email:  |  Twitter: @NicholsNewsroom


Nichols College is a college of choice for business and leadership education as a result of its distinctive career-focused and leadership-based approaches to learning, both in and out of the classroom. Founded in 1815, Nichols transforms today’s students into tomorrow’s leaders through a dynamic, career-focused business and professional education. Nichols serves students interested primarily in a comprehensive business education that is supported by a strong liberal arts curriculum.

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