Interagency office to respond to weapons of mass destruction

With the fear of a terrorist detonating a biological or nuclear weapon in the United States or against U.S. troops abroad becoming more plausible, the Defense Department last month announced it plans to form a special office that would oversee efforts to defend against such attacks and to assist civilian agencies in dealing with weapons of mass destruction.

The responsibilities of the Consequence Management Program Integration Office will include the development of high-tech-enabled units that would be deployed to an area where a nuclear, biological or chemical (NBC) weapon has been detonated.

The formation of the consequence management office comes just weeks after the Marine Corps' Systems Command issued a request for proposals for a $130 million program to develop a network that will help military and civilian agency officials share information on NBC weapons threats. The Marines plan to integrate the new network into the military's command, control, communications, computers and intelligence (C4I) architecture.

The two efforts are DOD's response to a perceived increase in the threats from NBC weapons, such as the weapons that Saddam Hussein is suspected of developing and the chemical weapon that the Aum Shinrikyo religious group set off in a Tokyo subway in 1995. That nerve gas killed 12 people and sent thousands to area hospitals complaining of burning eyes, nausea, difficulty in breathing, chest pains and tunnel vision.

The consequence management office will incorporate reserve military forces into federal interagency programs that deal with terrorist incidents involving NBC weapons and will assist law enforcement agencies that may encounter NBC weapons. The office will try to bring all of the available reserve assets to bear on incidents involving the use of weapons of mass destruction, said DOD spokesman Lt. Col. Tom Schultz. The current system "lacks coordination and easy access to the [NBC] skills that are available in the guard and reserve," he said.

The office also will manage 10 Rapid Assessment and Initial Detection (RAID) units, which will act as the nation's "911" force for domestic incidents involving weapons of mass destruction. The RAID units will provide initial detection of an NBC weapon, assessing the level of threat it poses and providing technical advice to local commanders. The teams will be outfitted with devices that can detect NBC agents and disseminate reports to local- and national-level decision-makers. One team will be stationed in each of 10 federal emergency management regions throughout the country.

Heading Up the Office

Air Force Lt. Col. Jay Steinmetz will head up DOD's response efforts in the new office and will report directly to the director of military support, Gen. Edward Soriano. Acting Secretary of the Army Robert M. Walker will be the executive agent for domestic preparedness and will supervise the office and its integration efforts.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency will head up the interagency efforts in the consequence management office. The agency has set up an online Rapid Response Information System to provide authorities with a training and crisis management tool. RRIS provides planners and emergency personnel with a one-stop shop for detailed reference data on various chemical and biological agents, first-aid measures, federal coordination and response information, information hot lines and access to subject matter experts. "RRIS will act like a physician's reference desk for NBC incidence response," said Morrie Goodman, director of communications for FEMA.

The FBI will manage investigations into who detonated the weapon, FBI officials said. FBI director Louis J. Freeh testified in January before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence that the agency investigated more than 100 criminal cases involving NBC threats in 1997.

An integral part of the consequence management office will be the Marines' new NBC weapons detection and warning system, called the Joint Warning and Reporting Network. JWARN will automate the process of sending alerts from handheld chemical detectors to military and civilian agencies. When a chemical or biological agent is detected, the detector will issue an audible alarm warning other personnel in the affected area to don protective gear and take other defensive actions. The unit also warns others via a pager.

JWARN also will automatically generate and distribute reports to local commanders describing the location and type of chemical or biological agent detected. The system, using modeling, simulation and Global Positioning System (GPS) software, also will determine how the agent will react to weather conditions and what direction the wind may take the agent.

"This is big stuff," said Doug Bryce, assistant program manager for JWARN at the Marine Corps' Systems Command. "We currently don't have a system that can do what JWARN will do in terms of prediction and warning."

The Backbone

The Marines view JWARN as the backbone of a governmentwide effort to provide DOD and civilian agencies with highly visual, real-time information on NBC attacks, said Thom Perfetto, NBC systems project officer at the Marine Corps Tactical Systems Support Activity.

The RFP marks the beginning of the first phase of the JWARN program and provides the requirements to develop the hazard prediction software and 66,000 interface devices. Those devices will link legacy NBC detectors to the Global Command and Control System and to the various military services' C4I systems. Phases II and III are under development and will provide C4I integration services and software upgrades, respectively.

According to Richard Turville, the NBC requirements officer with the Marine Corps' Combat Development Command, the Phase I initial software release scheduled for this summer will act as a pilot project for compiling lessons learned and debugging source code in advance of the Phase II GCCS integration. JWARN is not scheduled to reach full operational capability and C4I integration until 2002.

But sources close to the program said integrating JWARN into C4I, which is scheduled to begin by the end of this year, is "a big unknown." Without the proper integration work being done, there is no system at all, Turville said. "I'm going to need automated GPS information and weather data to predict where the hazard will go and who will be affected," he said.

John E. Pike, director of the space policy project and a military analyst at the Federation of American Scientists, called the JWARN program "a no-brainer" but said he is not sure it belongs with the military if it also will be used for domestic preparedness. "After all, your first real indication that you have an NBC problem will be a bunch of dead firemen," he said.

Although Pike said JWARN is solving an important problem, he would prefer to see such initiatives headed up by FEMA, which he said has a better relationship with the civilian emergency response community. "You have to ask yourself, 'What are we going to do in the first hour after an incident?' " he said. "The answer is, [involve] cops and firemen."

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