DHS to test comms strategy in TopOff 4

As part of an exercise involving a simulated terrorism attack, the Homeland Security Department wants to gauge the extent to which the public would trust information DHS releases electronically.

Like its predecessors, the fourth Top Officials (TopOff) exercise is intended to test the nation's readiness to deal with a large-scale terrorist attacks. This time, the exercise will test the department's public communications strategy.

The idea is to give the public information that is as complete and timely as possible about the events surrounding the attacks and what actions they should take to protect themselves. DHS will provide that information in two formats: a live video feed and a Web site. The live feed will resemble a newscast, according to DHS, featuring interviews with public officials and other experts, while the Web site will function more like a newspaper.

DHS recently released a notice requesting likely sources for a possible yearlong evaluation of the public’s understanding of the information the exercise will produce, and its trust in and compliance with the messages included.

The TopOff 4 exercise will be held in Portland, Ore., and Guam and follows a preliminary exercise held in June last year called TopOff 4 Command Post Exercise (TopOff 4 CPX), which involved more than 4,000 people from more than 85 federal, state, local and private industry organizations.

That exercise for the first time also included DHS, the FBI and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to test the coordination capabilities of the various participants. The lessons learned from that event will be carried through into this year’s exercise.

TopOff is a congressionally mandated counterterrorism program, and exercises are held every two years. TopOff 3, held in April 2005, involved the United Kingdom, Canada and U.S. participants.

The details for TopOff 5 will not be finalized until TopOff 4 lessons learned are evaluated and can be incorporated into the planning phase of TopOff 5.

About the Author

Brian Robinson is a freelance writer based in Portland, Ore.

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