Defense Agency Simulates Biological Attack on Pentagon
By Ian Graham
Special to American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, July 24, 2009 The risk of attack against senior government and military officials always has been high, making protection of the Pentagon and other buildings in the national capital area a top priority, a senior official involved with a recent bio-attack drill said.
Paul Benda and Christina Murata -- director and deputy director, respectively, of the Pentagon Force Protection Agency’s chemical, radiological, nuclear and explosives directorate -- spoke about preparing for a biological attack on the Pentagon during a July 22 webcast of “Armed with Science: Research and Applications for the Modern Military” on Pentagon Web Radio.
Benda and Murata explained how they used a commercial garden powder to simulate a biological attack in a July 11 test of response procedures and decontamination methods, and how the findings of their test will affect future response to bio-weapon attacks.
More than 200 people participated in the test, including 87 volunteers who were exposed to the garden powder and washed down. The Pentagon Force Protection Agency has conducted tests regularly since 2005 to gather data to better protect people in the event of a biological attack.
“We spread [the powder] across the reservation,” Benda said. “We had volunteers that got exposed to it. The building was exposed to it. We tracked where this powder went and where it went on our volunteers.”
The directorate tested different options for decontamination, from portable showers to what Benda described as a “wall of water.” More than a dozen organizations participated in the test in hopes of finding the easiest and most effective methods.
“We wanted to compare the different decontamination strategies,” Benda said. “What’s the fastest way to clean these people? What works the best?”
The quickest, most effective cleaner they found was water, Murata said. Simply flushing items with water cleaned more than 95 percent of contaminants from the road and more than 90 percent from vehicles.
“It’s that old fireman’s adage that there’s no problem that enough water can’t cure,” Murata said. “Point for point, water did the best.”
For personnel contaminated with a biological weapon, the best cleaning method was to make a “wall” of water using five fire trucks. Four pumper trucks fired water against each other while a ladder truck released water from above. Volunteers walked through the streams, scrubbing their body and hair to remove contaminants.
“This is a standard capability that every fire department has,” Benda said. “Whether it’s a volunteer fire department or a professional fire department, they’re able to use their standard nozzles, connected to a hydrant, to create this decontamination capability.”
The beauty of using fire trucks, beyond their accessibility regardless of location, is their effectiveness. It’s not a new technology, but it performs on par with other decontamination methods.
“It works as well, if not better than specific technologies, and it gives us faster through-put,” Benda said.
Once the team sorts the data from this test and figures out which questions have been answered and what new questions have arisen, they’ll share the findings and begin planning for the next test.
And though certain information in tests related to security for Defense Department and other government employees is safeguarded, the information that applies to organizations nationwide will be spread through professional conferences and published articles.
“We do our best to get the information out that will protect the nation as a whole,” Benda said.
(Ian Graham works in the Defense Media Activity’s emerging media directorate.)