It's an idyllic summer day in Denver. Families are enjoying a festival in Civic Center Park, while residents and visitors alike happily stroll along the 16th Street Mall as a shuttle glides past. The air is filled with the sounds of people laughing and children playing.
Suddenly, there's a deafening explosion. The urban tranquility is replaced by scenes of horror: charred wreckage, collapsed buildings, bleeding victims. Horrified screams mingle with the wail of police sirens.
Aaron Clauset watches as this terrorist attack unfolds. The University of Colorado professor is visiting the Counterterrorism Education Learning Lab, a museum that opened near Civic Center Park in 2008. The nonprofit CELL is dedicated to preventing terrorism through education and empowerment, but judging from its centerpiece exhibit — a multimedia display that uses video projections and hidden speakers to make visitors like Clauset feel as if they're experiencing a terrorist event in the middle of Denver — that education and empowerment comes with a heavy dose of anxiety and hysteria. At the end of the simulation, an ominous message lingers on the wall displays: "Terrorism: It could happen anywhere. It could happen here."