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Domestic Preparedness

In the aftermath of the Sarin poison gas attack in Tokyo and the Oklahoma City bombing President Clinton signed Presidential Decision Directive 39 (PDD/NSC 39) on terrorist use of weapons of mass destruction. The Directive distinguishes between domestic and international threats, and divides the response into two categories: crisis response and consequence management. Crisis response are those activities conducted prior to [and hopefully preventing] the use of weapons of mass destruction by terrorists. Domestic crisis response activities are under the direction of the FBI, and the Department of State Office of Counterterrorism is responsible for international incidents. Consequence management deals with mitigating and alleviating the effects of a chemical or biological attack, including preparatory work. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has consequence management responsibilities for domestic incidents and Department of State Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance is responsible for international incidents.

President Clinton also proposed legislation to Congress. Congress on 23 September 1996, Congress passed Public Law 104-201 National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 1997 TITLE XIV The Defense Against Weapons of Mass Destruction Act, the so-called Nunn-Lugar-Domenici legislation for the three United States Senators who sponsored it. The Nunn-Lugar-Domenici Bill charges Federal Departments and agencies with achieving the goal of putting systems into place that will protect the public against terrorists.

The Department of Defense is coordinating the preparedness and response to terrorism, but would not have the lead in an actual response operation. Using an Advisory Group as the core element of this process, the Department of Defense has coordinated closely with the key Departments and agencies with responsibilities in this area. The United States Army's Chemical and Biological Defense Command (CBDCOM) is delivering domestic preparedness training nationally to emergency responders in 120 cities as mandated by the Nunn-Lugar-Domenici Legislation. These Train-the-Trainer programs were developed and are being executed as a partnership among six federal agencies (DOD, DOE, FBI, FEMA, PHS, and EPA) and the emergency response community.

The United States Army Technical Escort Unit provides the Department of Defense and other federal agencies with an immediate response capability for chemical and biological warfare material. And the Marine Corps' Chemical Biological Response Force has some rapid-response decontamination capabilities. The proposed DOD Chemical Biological Rapid Response Team, or C/B–RRT, would build upon the existing capabilities of the Technical Escort Unit.

The Posse Comitatus Act, passed in 1878, prohibits the military from enforcing civil criminal law within the United States. But recent congressional acts granting exceptions to Posse Comitatus have altered the manner in which the armed forces may assist law enforcement. Active-duty soldiers can be employed to respond to a domestic crisis when a state, usually through its governor, requests a presidential declaration of a state of emergency. Once a state of emergency is declared, military forces are under the direction of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief Act of 1984, as amended in 1988 (42 US Code Section 5121 et seq.), commonly referred to as the Stafford Act, is the authority under which such assistance is provided.

The National Guard is responsible for developing a domestic chemical/biological counter terrorism mission plan that is fully coordinated with all related plans and programs of the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the active forces, and all other Reserve Components so as to leverage existing capabilities to the maximum extent possible. Activities include conducting joint, interagency training for federal, state, and local responders with respect to counter terrorism operations and the defense against weapons of mass destruction and for testing and evaluating equipment related to the support of the chemical/biological defense mission. In March 1988 Secretary Cohen announced the formation of ten separate and special National Guard teams that will be dedicated solely to assisting local civilian authorities in the event of a chemical or biological attack.

The FBI is the lead agency for crisis management in response to a domestic terrorist threat or incident. It is responsible for identifying, acquiring and planning the use of resources needed to prevent and/or respond to a potential or actual terrorist incident. Crisis management encompasses all of the operations to prevent an incident after a threat has occurred, seeking out and/or arresting perpetrators before lives are lost, and rescue and response operations during the first minutes and hours after an incident to mitigate its consequences. Crisis management includes proactive measures for prevention, immediate incident and post-incident response, including command of the operational response as the on-scene manager for an incident.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is responsibile for coordinating consequence management of the Federal government for terrorist incidents. Consequence management differs from crisis management in that it involves preparedness and response for dealing with the consequences of a terrorist incident, including alleviating damage caused by the incident. It also includes public health and safety, the restoration of essential government services, and providing emergency assistance. This is a complex issue because involving dozens of Federal Departments and agencies, fire, law enforcement, private relief organizations, handling of the press, and a host of other issues.

In addition to coordinating consequence management, the Federal Emergency Management Agency was tasked with reviewing the Federal Response Plan to determine the capability for consequence management of terrorism, especially for acts of nuclear, biological and chemical terrorism. The Federal Response Plan, developed through the efforts of 27 departments and agencies, describes the basic methodology by which the Federal government will mobilize resources and conduct activities to assist Sates in coping with the consequences of significant disasters. The Federal Response Plan implements the authorities given to the Federal Emergency Management Agency under the American emergency management law to assign missions to any Federal Department or agency in support of a disaster or emergency declared by the President.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency chairs the Senior Interagency Coordination Group on Terrorism. This group is responsible for providing policy-level guidance in the development of a Government-wide terrorism training strategy, as well as addressing other issues related to consequence management.

A sub-group of the Senior Interagency Coordination Group is the Interagency Training Task Group, established to identify training audiences and performance requirements, suggest training design, including the delivery systems that will be most effective, define relationships to existing and ongoing training and capabilities, and establish training priorities and plans for both short- and long-term activities. The Nunn-Lugar-Domenici Bill provides one-year funding for training, which must be spent before September 30, 1997. The Senior Interagency Coordinating Group is implementing this legislation by developing a strategy to target these funds to the 20 largest cities in the US, plus any cities identified by the FBI as particularly high risk.

Other task groups have also been established to address other aspects of the response to terrorism. The Departments of Defense, Energy, and Health and Human Services, the Environmental Protection Agency, and others are involved in working with others in the Federal response community to ensure that all issues are covered.

The US Public Health Service is providing grants to cities to develop Metropolitan Medical Strike Teams (MMST). These specialized response teams would render assistance for upwards of 1000 casualties. Mass casualty supplies, pharmaceuticals, detection, decontamination and personal protective equipment, including hazardous materials (HazMat) gear, are all components of this system. The operational plan calls for a quick emergency decontamination of victims with simultaneous triage and medical treatment. Treatment protocols include the administration of antidotes for victims and first responders.

In the case of a biological incident, the onset of some symptoms may take days to weeks, and typically there will be no characteristic signatures, because biological agents are usually odorless and colorless. Because of the delayed onset of symptoms, the number of victims and the areas affected may be greater due to the migration of infected individuals. Once released, a nerve agent's outward warning signs are easy to spot -- within minutes, the most significant sign will be rapid onset of similar symptoms in a large group of people. Because nerve agents are so lethal, mass fatalities without other signs of trauma are common. In these situations it is especially critical to know exactly what steps to take and the sequence in which they must occur because of the presence of hazards other than those traditionally encountered. The emergency decontamination process may be the single most important task that the public safety community can perform during a terrorist incident, but it will certainly tax the abilities of any locality or state.

Sources and Resources

Federal Response to Domestic Terrorism Involving Weapons of Mass Destruction
Training for First Reponders
March 21, 1997 House National Security Military Research & Development Subcommittee



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