New Federal Program to Respond to Mass-Destruction Threats

New Federal Program to Respond to Mass-Destruction ThreatsThe Defense Department last month announced plans to form a special office that would oversee efforts to defend against terrorist attacks involving nuclear, biological or chemical (NBC) weapons and assist civilian agencies in dealing with weapons of mass destruction. The new Consequence Management Program Integration Office will incorporate reserve military forces into federal interagency programs and train local fire, police and emergency medical personnel on how to deal with potentially catastrophic events.

The office will manage 10 DOD-led Rapid Assessment and Initial Detection units, which will act as the nation's "911" force for domestic incidents involving weapons of mass destruction. The RAID units will act as the "first responders" to such incidents and will be charged with providing 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 state-of-the-art chemical-detection devices that can automatically 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.

While DOD assets will be used to support state, local and federal efforts, the Federal Emergency Management Agency will hold the lead response position and will coordinate 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 (www.fema.gov/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.

State and local government agencies will also be able to access a password-protected site behind a firewall to obtain information about the types of response and recovery equipment the federal government has available, where it is stored and how to access it. FEMA will provide these agencies with special software to access this site.

Over the next several months, FEMA will conduct briefings and training to help state emergency management personnel better understand the federal government's response to these incidents. The first of these training sessions for state emergency management representatives is scheduled for late summer, according to Marc Wolfson, a FEMA spokesman.

The FBI will manage investigations into who detonated the weapon, according to the FBI. Louis J. Freeh, the FBI's director, testified in January before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence that the agency investigated more than 100 criminal cases involving NBC threats in 1997. "While the most important thing is saving people's lives, the second is finding out who did it and catching them," said Robert Blitzer, chief of the domestic terrorism and counterterrorism planning section with the bureau. Through its field offices, the FBI provides state and local first-responders with training on handling crime scenes of this magnitude and collecting key evidence. "We can't ever forget that it's a major crime scene that has to be dealt with," Blitzer said.

An integral part of the consequence management office will be the Marine Corps' new $130 million Joint Warning and Reporting Network to help military and civilian agency officials share information on NBC weapons threats. The Marines plan to integrate the new network into the military's existing command, control, communications, computers and intelligence (C4I) architecture. The detection technology used by DOD's RAID teams will be integrated into the JWARN infrastructure.

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 Marines 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 software, also will determine how the agent will react to the current 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 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. "JWARN will be the nucleus for NBC warning and reporting," said Thom Perfetto, the NBC systems project officer at the Marine Corps' Tactical Systems Support Activity.

The first phase of the JWARN program provides the requirements to develop the hazard-prediction software and 66,000 interface devices to link legacy NBC detectors to the Global Command and Control System (GCCS) 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 for 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.However, 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 he said he is not sure it belongs with the military if it also will be used for domestic preparedness. "After all," Pike said, "your first real indication that you have an NBC problem will be a bunch of dead firemen."

Although Pike said JWARN is solving an important problem, he would prefer to see such initiatives headed 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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