Educating the Public About Terrorism: The Cell

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by Melanie Avner

This year marks the 15th anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks. We all remember the morning of 9/11/01… the devastation that took hold of our country and the staggering realization that our lives would be forever changed.

    The Counterterrorism Education Learning Lab® (CELL® ) was created in response to 9/11 and is the world’s only exhibit devoted entirely to terrorism education and prevention.

    The CELL is located on the southeast corner of the Denver Civic Center Cultural Complex across from the Denver Art Museum at 99 West 12th Avenue. This state-of-the-art exhibit was developed by world-renowned counterterrorism experts and offers a dynamic, interactive experience that addresses the ongoing threat of terrorism and educates individuals on how they can play a role in enhancing public safety.

A New Reality

“The September 11 terrorist attacks changed how our country – and the world – manage security and safety,” said Melanie Pearlman, executive director of the CELL. “Unfortunately, the tragic events of Orlando, Paris and San Bernardino remind us of the threats we continue to face. The CELL exists to empower our citizens to help enhance the community safety and we are honored to work with first responders and community activists on a daily basis to help prevent future atrocities such as these. We must continue to look within ourselves as citizens to find the strength and determination to prevail in the face of evil, and we look forward to working with citizens across the country to ensure a safe and secure future.

Education Leads to Empowerment

The CELL is dedicated to preventing terrorism through education, empowerment and engagement. Before we can prevent terrorism, we must understand it, and the CELL exhibit addresses its roots, objectives, funding and more. The CELL’s related programs teach individuals how to recognize and report suspicious behavior, empowering them to take an active role in community security and safety.


The CELL Exhibit

Visitors to the CELL experience a multimedia, interactive journey. The tour is self-guided, and it is recommended that visitors be at least 14 years of age. Tours with the CELL’s expert guides are available and must be scheduled in advance. Tour guides provide a framework for discussion about the exhibit, as well as a comprehensive look at ISIS, today’s most prevalent terrorist network, and other current threats.

Defining Terrorism

The tour begins by defining terrorism – a challenge since there is no definition that has worldwide acceptance. However, the CELL believes it is important to define terrorism in order to begin a constructive converstaion about it.

September 11, 2001

Inside the CELL, visitors come face-to-face with a powerful artifact: a two-ton piece of twisted and burned steel from the World Trade Center. Images on the exhibit’s walls tell the story of the World Trade Center steel’s journey to Denver, and a discussion of the terorrist attacks provides a historical context; the world is now divided into two distinct time periods: before and after.

Myths and Facts

The exhibit features an interactive exercise that addresses the Myths and Facts of Terrorism. The answers to commonly asked questions shatter stereotypes and uncover surprising details about how terrorism develops, both domestically and around the world.

A Delicate Balance

Throughout the 20th century, terrorism has affected policy development in many countries. Interactive touchscreens allow visitors to learn about the different approaches nations take to balance security and civil liberties.

Preventing Terrorism

In addition to educating visitors through its exhibit, the CELL offers tangible ways for citizens to get involved in keeping their communities safe.

     The CELL’s Community Awareness Program® (CAP® ) trains citizens on how to identify and communicate the risk of terrorism and criminal activity to the appropriate law enforcement channels. These trainings are open to the public and are held several times throughout the year. The CAP also can be customized for different organizations and events.

    During a CAP training, private citizens learn how to:

  • Define terrorism
  • Understand the tools and methods used by terrorists
  • Recognize the signs of terrorism and criminal activity
  • Identify today’s terrorist and criminal threats
  • Report suspicious activity, while preserving civil liberties
  • Assemble a disaster preparedness kit 

     Through the CAP, the CELL has trained more than 20,000 people across the country. Staff and volunteers have been trained to secure events like the Major League Baseball All-Star Game, the USA Pro Cycle Challenge, the FIS Alpine World Ski Championships, the Republican National Convention and the Indianapolis 500.


Public Engagement

To complement its exhibit and training initiatives, the CELL has developed a renowned speaker series that addresses the most salient issues facing national and global security today. These forums provide the community unprecedented opportunities to engage with the world’s leaders in security and defense policy including The Hon. Leon Panetta, former U.S. Secretary of Defense; The Hon. Janet Napolitano, former U.S. Secretary of Security; His Excellency Husain Haqqani, Ambassador of Pakistan (2008-2011); The Hon. John McCain, U.S. Senator for Arizona; and political strategist Donna Brazile, among many others.

Educating Future Leaders

Because educating future leaders on terrorism is so critical, the CELL also partners with local high schools and universities to offer in-school presentations with subject matter experts in various fields, such as international relations, public affairs and national security. These events give students in-depth exposure to today’s most relevant global issues.

     The CELL is committed to partnering with various organizations, such as the Boy Scouts of America, to develop and implement programs and curricula geared toward educating today’s youth on important public safety and national security issues. Through these relationships, the CELL is empowering the community and establishing future leaders who will be armed with the knowledge to help improve community safety and prevent terrorism.

Learn More

Knowledge is power, and in today’s new reality, the CELL works to prevent terrorism by educating and empowering citizens to keep our communities safe. Learn more at

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