Turning Cities into Citadels

Domestic preparedness is key to managing and responding to attacks against cities.

by / July 31, 1999
Municipal managers and elected officials from cities, counties and states, besides dealing with the routine headaches running a jurisdiction can spontaneously generate, must also be ready to respond quickly to large-scale emergencies.

Two notable examples of such emergencies are the gassing of Tokyo's subway system in 1995 and the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah federal office building in Oklahoma City, Okla., that same year.

According to the U.S. General Accounting Office, the number of terrorist attacks nationwide and worldwide has declined in recent years, but the level of violence and lethality of such attacks has increased. The U.S. Department of State's research reveals a continuing trend to more ruthless attacks on mass civilian targets and the use of more powerful bombs.

Emergency-planning officials must face the possibility of responding to nightmarish events occurring even in small towns like Littleton, Colo.

Being Prepared
Research Planning Inc. (RPI) designs tabletop exercises for cities and jurisdictions and uses several types of software to present the situation and model how chemical or biological attacks can spread over a city. One of the software products is CAMEO (computer aided management of emergency operations). Another is MIDAS-AT (meterological information and dispersion assessment system anti-terrorism).

CAMEO models planning and response to chemical emergencies and contains a chemical database of 4,700 hazardous chemicals. The database also contains specific information on each chemical, detailing the individual hazards of the chemical, firefighting techniques, cleanup procedures and protective clothing. The software contains a mapping application and models air dispersion of chemicals over an area.

MIDAS-AT allows users to model air dispersion over an area, but offers two other modeling capabilities. The inside building model allows users to model a terrorist attack using chemical or biological weapons inside a building and displays the spread of the agent in the building to other rooms or floors. The urban terrain model allows users to model a similar terrorist attack in a downtown environment where tall buildings create virtual canyons, affecting the spread of a chemical or biological agent.

Focal Point

The realities of terrorist attacks prompted Congress to pass the Defense Against Weapons of Mass Destruction Act in 1996. This act created the U.S. Domestic Preparedness Program, designed to bolster the abilities of cities across the country to withstand and manage a terrorist attack.

The program seeks to train the appropriate state, city and municipal personnel, called "first responders," to prepare the nation's largest 120 cities for the aftermath of a variety of terrorist attacks, be they nuclear, biological or chemical. Specialized teams from federal agencies train the personnel responsible for training first responders to any type of disaster or emergency event.

To ease state and local first responders' access to information about the program, the National Domestic Preparedness Office (NDPO) was created. It coordinates all federal efforts to help first responders with the necessary planning, exercises, training and equipment to respond to a terrorist attack of chemical, biological or nuclear weapons. The NDPO is also an information clearinghouse, providing details on federal assistance programs to state and local response agencies.

"Think of the NDPO as a big tool box," said Barbara Martinez, deputy director of the NDPO. "We're not trying to reinvent the wheel here. First responders from all across the country can share input received from other first responders and governmental agencies to get an idea of how others have responded to emergency situations."

The NDPO operates through weapons of mass destruction (WMD) coordinators in all FBI offices nationwide, said Rick Shapiro, NDPO deputy director. First responders call their state's FBI office with requests or questions about training or equipment. The WMD coordinator, with the NDPO's assistance, answers questions or arranges training for regional groups of first responders within the state.

"A lot of good things are happening and a large number of state and local first responders are signing up for our programs," Shapiro said. "We lead off our training classes by telling state and local responders that the federal government is eight to 14 hours away in response time. Local communities will be on their own."

"It's up to local leaders to be prepared," Martinez said. "Preparedness is the key to safe and effective response because if there's no plan, panic can ensue."

Getting the Tools

State and local emergency-planning officials can also access the research power of the federal government through the domestic preparedness program. The National Institute of Justice (NIJ) is researching and testing many high-tech tools designed to help response teams.

The NIJ's Office of Science and Technology (OST) is conducting the research and field-testing for a variety of such tools that may become available to state and local law enforcement agencies:

? The RTR-3 explosive diagnostic system, a computer-based, portable unit, allows users to examine an explosive device by the use of X-rays, which are displayed on a small computer screen. In addition, images of the bomb can be sent, via modem, to remote explosive experts for further analysis. Another device, called a percussion-activated nonelectric disrupter (PAN) is used in conjunction with the RTR-3. PAN disables explosive devices by hurtling a small slug into the bomb at a target picked out by bomb experts after viewing the X-ray images of the bomb.

? The personal alarm monitor is intended to be a wearable device, about the size of an ATM card, that alerts the wearer to sub-clinical exposure to hazardous chemical and biological agents. This device will alert first responders to the presence of as broad of range of agents as possible so the personnel arriving at a scene can don appropriate protective gear. The first prototypes of this device will warn the wearer of exposure to hazardous chemicals by means of a change in color of some portion of the device, and a biological-detection capability is further down the road. The card will have a strip of material that reacts to the presence of the chemical by changing color.

? The through-the-wall surveillance system allows users to locate and track a person through concrete or brick walls, and can track the activity of a person moving behind an eight-inch thick concrete wall to a range of 75 feet.

? A chemical-agent warning system is being tested with a metropolitan transit authority. The system uses currently available chemical-agent detectors that, when sensing an agent, send an alarm to the transit authority's command center, allowing a response plan to be launched.

Spreading the Knowledge

St. Louis participated in the domestic preparedness program's training in August 1998. The training was built around a tabletop exercise centered on the Pope's visit to the city last January, said Michael Sullivan, director of St. Louis City Emergency Management Agency.

"It was amazing to see the training exercise come together. We called in people from the state. We had our people there. We had federal people there. It got everybody on the same page," Sullivan said. "The [training] set up a biological incident in which anthrax was released at the Kiel Auditorium, where the Pope was to make his address. Through the training, we learned that we weren't prepared for decontaminating a large number of people exposed to a biological agent. The trainers showed us how we could prepare ourselves."

Sullivan said the Public Health Service demonstrated how to resolve this problem by using decontamination tents, while other federal agencies also delivered specialized training. "You respect the expertise of the trainers because they've been at it for a long time," Sullivan said. "Our HAZMAT personnel, some with 10 or 12 years of experience in the field, said they were very impressed with the HAZMAT training. That tells me something."

Sullivan's agency is training other first responders, such as police officers from other municipalities, emergency management personnel from neighboring Cape Girardeau county, emergency-room personnel from St. Louis hospitals and even ushers from the city's sports arenas, who are trained to "be alert and be aware" of what doesn't look right.

Preparing for the Worst

Other jurisdictions may access grant money for equipment purchases from the Office of Justice Programs (OJP), part of the Department of Justice (DOJ). The OJP's Office for State and Local Domestic Preparedness Support is the agency awarding the grants.

Andy Mitchell, deputy director of the preparedness support office, said that training for fire, law enforcement and emergency medical technicians is also being offered through his office to any jurisdiction, regardless of size.

"We think it's critical that first responders have a basic idea of what these biological and chemical agents are," Mitchell said. "Since they are first on the scene, they need to be able to recognize what they are dealing with before calling a HAZMAT team. Our goal is to train as many first responders as we can."