Radiological and Bioterror-Attack Exercise Starts May 12
By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May 5, 2003 Citizens of Chicago and Seattle shouldn't become alarmed if they see "space suit"-attired groups of people rushing around May 12.
Such an event, Homeland Defense Secretary Tom Ridge noted here today, will just be part of a test of U.S. and Canadian federal, state and local government capabilities to meet a real-life terrorist radiological or biological weapons attack.
The exercise is called Top Officials 2, Ridge explained, noting it is congressionally mandated and the second of a series of anti-terrorism emergency preparedness tests. Top Officials 1, he said, was conducted in May 2000.
Top Officials 2, which runs through May 17, will be held in Chicago, Seattle and Vancouver, Ridge noted. The U.S. Departments of State and Defense, he added, jointly sponsor the exercise. Canadian officials will participate through a command post exercise.
DoD will take part mainly through a command post exercise, providing people to work with lead federal agencies in the Washington, D.C., area and in Chicago and Seattle.
The Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense, the Joint Staff, the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, the National Imagery and Mapping Agency and U.S. Northern Command are among DoD assets taking part.
The upcoming five-day exercise "is a simulation" only, Ridge cautioned Americans, especially those living in Chicago and Seattle.
Ridge ticked off the exercise scenarios: a fictitious covert terrorist biological plague attack on Chicago and a simulated terrorist radiological dispersion assault on Seattle.
"You may see real first responders actually working at simulated scenes and treating volunteers who pretend to be victims," Ridge explained.
Also, people visiting local hospitals in Chicago and Seattle, Ridge continued, "may see some of the hospital staff wearing masks or protective gear as they treat these volunteer 'victims.'"
He reiterated: "The attack is not real; it is simply a simulation, it is a test of our response capacity."
Such tests, Ridge noted, help the nation to better prepare for possible weapons of mass destruction events.
For instance, TOPOFF 1 "showed us that multiple control centers, numerous liaisons and an increasing number of response teams only complicated coordination and unity of effort," Ridge explained.
Since that first exercise, he noted, U.S. officials have established a national strategy for homeland security, created a new department focused solely on serving that mission, and begun consolidation of a national response plan.
Ridge noted that TOPOFF 1 also demonstrated the need for federal, state and local officials to share threat information in a timely manner.
That's something "we've remedied, significantly, with the Homeland Security Advisory System, and more recently, with the creation of the Terrorism Threat Integration Center," he pointed out.
Also, President Bush and Congress are providing $1.5 billion in bioterrorism preparedness grant money to state and local health systems, Ridge noted, to better prepare for possible terrorist attack on the homeland.
And lessons learned from TOPOFF 2, he pointed out, will be used "to improve the nation's capacity to save lives in response to a terrorist event."
Every day, U.S. anti-terrorism officials do their utmost to protect the nation from attack, Ridge emphasized.
However, "we do have to be prepared in the event an attack occurs," he concluded.