Questions Linger While Nation Prepares For Terror Drill
The nation is preparing for its biggest terrorism exercise ever when three fictional “dirty bombs” will go off and cripple transportation arteries in two major U.S. cities and Guam, according to a document obtained by The Associated Press.
Yet even as this drill begins, details from the previous national exercise held in 2005 have yet to be publicly released — information that’s supposed to help officials prepare for the next real attack.
House lawmakers have demanded answers, including why the “after-action” report from 2005 hasn’t been made public. Congress has required the exercise since 2000, but has done little in the way of oversight beyond attending the actual events, according to AP.
Rep. Bennie Thompson, the committee chairman, did not get a direct answer to why it has taken the department two years to finish the after action report.
“I’m just wondering how much of that information you gleaned is actually current enough to move forward with,” Thompson, D-Miss said. Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Wash., asked if the department was not releasing the report because it’s hiding something.
“Is it so sensitive because there was a lot of failures in this exercise,” Dicks says. “You know Katrina wasn’t exactly a home run.”
The fourth Top Officials exercise — dubbed TOPOFF — costs about $25 million a year and involves the federal government’s highest officials, such as top people from the Defense and Homeland Security departments, reports AP.
“The challenge with TOPOFF is not the exercise itself. It’s to move as quickly as possible to remedy what perceives to be the problems that are uncovered,” former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge said in an interview with AP.
Ridge, who launched his own security consulting company, says he’s a big fan of the TOPOFF exercises. But he says, “it’s not acceptable” that the review from the 2005 exercise is still not released publicly.
The House Homeland Security emergency communications, preparedness and response subcommittee held a hearing on the terrorism exercise program.
This year’s TOPOFF will build on lessons learned from previous exercises, according to the Homeland Security Department, which runs the program. The agency said the exercise would be “the largest and most comprehensive” to date.
According to an internal department briefing of the exercise obtained by AP, a dirty bomb would go off at a Cabras power plant in Guam; another dirty bomb would explode on the Steel Bridge in Portland, Ore., impacting major transportation systems; and a third dirty bomb would explode at the intersection of busy routes 101 and 202 near Phoenix.
Local hospitals and law enforcement agencies are involved in the “attacks” by the dirty bombs, which are conventional explosives that include some radioactive material that would cause contamination over a limited area but not create actual nuclear explosions.