DoD Prepares for Emergency Action
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, April 25, 1997 A van loaded with explosives blasted the World Trade Center in New York City, killing six. A Ryder truck carrying a deadly mix of fertilizer and ammonium nitrate devastated the federal building in Oklahoma City, killing 168. A satchel bomb shattered a crowd at the Olympics in Atlanta, killing one.
Terrorism used to be something that happened somewhere else -- never at home, not in America. But as these tragedies attest, the world has changed. Domestic terrorism is a reality, and federal, state and local officials must be prepared to deal with it.
As part of a new interagency federal program, DoD is helping civilian law enforcement, fire and medical officials prevent and respond to emergencies involving nuclear, radiological, chemical or biological weapons of mass destruction, DoD officials said.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency is chairing an interagency group to ensure federal emergency response programs are coordinated and that they help enhance state and local programs, officials said.
Experts from DoD, FEMA, the FBI, the Departments of Energy, Health and Human Services, and the Environmental Protection Agency are joining forces under a provision of the fiscal 1997 defense authorization bill. The secretary of the Army serves as DoD's executive agent, officials said.
Over the next three years, DoD will head interagency assessment teams slated to work with officials in 120 cities. The teams will assess city programs and capabilities for emergency response, officials said. Some cities, such as Atlanta, which prepared for the possibility of terrorist activity during the Olympics, and Washington, which prepared for the 1997 inaugural, are quite advanced, officials said.
Teams will tailor training local capabilities and, as needed, provide basic training in agent identification, decontamination, and caring for victims of chemical or biological weapons without contaminating local hospitals, officials said. DoD will help local and state governments acquire equipment and provide testing and exercises to validate training and their ability to work together, they added.
The goal is to assess 27 cities in fiscal 1997 and begin training in about nine of those. Cities set for assessment and training are Denver, New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Washington, Kansas City, San Diego and Philadelphia. Cities scheduled for assessment include Detroit, Dallas, Phoenix, San Antonio, Baltimore, Indianapolis, San Francisco, Jacksonville, Columbus, Milwaukee, Boston, Seattle, Denver, Atlanta, Honolulu, Miami, San Jose, Calif., Memphis, Tenn., and Anchorage, Alaska.
Denver, site of the trial of accused Oklahoma City bombers Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, volunteered to be the pilot city, officials said. Denver is also hosting the next G-7 economic conference with officials from the United States, Great Britain, Canada, Italy, Germany, France and Japan, officials said. An assessment team began working with Denver city officials April 14.
DoD plans to set up a 24-hour hotline and helpline so every community in the nation can get technical advice in an emergency and routinely, officials said. DoD will also create a web site to share information with local and state government officials.
Overall, the program will help federal, state and local coordinate their efforts, assets and capabilities, officials said. Eventually, a local official working in an emergency management center in Denver, for example, will be able to punch up the Internet to find out what federal assets are located nearby, a DoD spokesman said. Denver might be able to get pharmaceuticals from one site, protective garments from another, or they might discover the Public Health Service has a metropolitan strike team within 30 minutes of downtown Denver, the official said.
DoD has also been tasked to set up a chemical-biological quick response force under the leadership of the Chemical, Biological Defense Command at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., officials said. The unit will coordinate military capabilities and assets such as chemical-biological and technical escort units and testing laboratories throughout the services. Military officials from the response team are heading the assessment currently under way in Denver, officials said.
DoD's fiscal 1997 budget for the domestic preparedness program is $42.6 million, officials said. This includes $6.6 million to support metropolitan medical strike teams from the Department of Health and Human Services. These are specialized teams trained and equipped to help identify weapons of mass destruction agents and start victim decontamination, and conduct medical triage and therapy before victims are moved to emergency medical facilities.