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.
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.
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.