Task force studies WMD threats

It will recommend ways to counter weapon attacks

Homeland Security Advisory Council

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A federal advisory task force formed to study weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) will make recommendations to the Homeland Security Department secretary later this year about defending against attacks involving such weapons.

Members of the task force, which is part of the Homeland Security Advisory Council (HSAC), will take a comprehensive look at weapons of mass effect, which encompass WMDs, terrorists transporting such weapons and the weapons’ damaging effects on society and the economy.

Dan Ostergaard, the council's executive director, said task force members will examine threats, vulnerabilities and consequences and use a risk-based approach to recommend how officials should allocate limited resources. They intend to supplement existing research and share their findings with state, local, tribal and private-sector officials, he said.

Task force members plan to assess the nation’s ability to thwart and respond to attacks, and they will also outline goals for the next 10 years, said Richard Davis, the task force’s director for DHS. In particular, group members will examine WMD prevention programs and their integration into emergency planning.

Davis said the task force plans to use a systems architecture approach to create a layered, integrated defense plan. This approach would include using federal assets to prevent the entry of WMDs or terrorists into the United States and ensuring that detection and interdiction capabilities exist internationally, he said.

Although task force members probably will acknowledge the value of technology for a systems architecture, Davis said they are more likely to make suggestions about layering and integrating technologies than about adopting specific solutions.

One aspect of the task force's work will be to study the potential psychological and economic damage of an attack using WMDs. "You may not kill a lot of people, but you could certainly do a great deal of psychological, economic ... damage to the country as a result of whatever action took place," said Lydia Thomas, president and chief executive officer of Mitretek Systems and the task force's appointed leader.

Thomas, who is also an HSAC member, said the task force has an opportunity to discover and close holes in the nation’s defenses. She said globalization and technology are powerful tools in the effort to prevent the use of such weapons.

"We can no longer think of our physical boundaries in the ways we have in the past," she said.

Thomas said technology is not the only solution to WMD threats, but the nation excels in that area. Technology "certainly has a substantial contribution to make in creating these layers of defense all the way from information technologies to sensors and detectors," she said.

Ostergaard said task force members will draw on the expertise of the 21-member HSAC and its four senior advisory committees, which include state and local officials, emergency responders, academic and policy experts and private-sector officials.

"I think it's an excellent opportunity to really get kind of the outside-the-box thinking and really get a fresh look at some of these issues," he said.

Investigating worst-case scenarios

The Homeland Security Advisory Council, a federal advisory committee that makes recommendations to the Homeland Security Department’s secretary, has formed a task force to study weapons of mass effect, which include weapons of mass destruction, and how to prevent their use by terrorists. The task force’s report will be an unclassified, public document.

The group plans to:

  • Study weapons of mass destruction, including chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosive devices, and people who deliver the WMD components.
  • Examine the psychological and economic effects of WMDs on the public.
  • Develop a systems architecture for a layered and integrated defense.
  • Include a national perspective from state, local, tribal and federal agencies; academic institutions; and emergency response communities.
— Dibya Sarkar

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