Army leaders discuss planned response to nuclear scenario
October 24, 2013
By David Vergun
WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Oct. 24, 2013) -- What would happen in the aftermath of a 10-kiloton nuclear explosion over the nation's capital, who would be in charge of the ensuing rescue and recovery, and what would they do?
That scenario and those questions framed the discussion between Army leaders and first responders during a forum, "Enhancing North American Security/Missions at Home," Oct. 23, at the 2013 Association of the United States Army Annual Meeting and Exposition in Washington, D.C.
Fortunately, the topic has been chewed over at length by leaders of those who would be the first to respond. Out of those conversations emerged the "National Response Framework," a guide for how the nation responds to all types of disasters and emergencies.
In the wake of a disaster or emergency, the NRF has already prepared a list of roles and responsibilities for military, fire, paramedic, law enforcement and Department of Homeland Security personnel.
The NRC also addresses responsibilities for just about every other government and nongovernmental organization that exists, as well as industries, volunteer organizations, faith-based groups and even individual citizens who might volunteer, said Damon C. Penn, assistant administrator, National Continuity Programs, Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Coordinating all of the activity would be the DHS, which would set up a national response coordination center. Representative at the center would provide their initial assessments and an action plan in very short order, Penn said.
The action plan would include a "tiered response," tailored and scaled to the crisis. Following a nuclear event, the scale of response would be massive, Penn said.
After a disaster, continuity plans would be simultaneously rolled out across the country. At the local level, for instance, if a police chief was incapable of performing his duty, the deputy would step in. If the deputy was not capable, the assistant deputy takes charge, Penn said.
In the wake of a disaster, Penn said, it wouldn't be just homes and businesses that would suffer. Some of the very organizations in charge of providing recovery efforts might also be damaged. In those cases, the network of responders would have to be quickly re-routed and other entities would have to backfill.
Using an example of a conceivable but unthinkable loss, he said, "we don't have a second Pentagon" as a backup should it be taken out; but there are other military capabilities available.
Within the first few hours and minutes of a blast, Penn said, fire, police and emergency personnel would be at the forefront of efforts to conduct rescue and evacuation efforts; although many of those would have been vaporized or incapacitated by the blast.
Following activation of first responders, the military and other federal agencies might come on board in the relief effort. That the Department of Education would step in seems odd, Penn said, but as the crisis continues for many months, such as after the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in Japan, schools would need to be set up to bring back some sense of normalcy to communities.
Many training exercises have been held with the various agencies in the national capital region to validate the NRF concept. But Penn said what works on paper would most likely need some on-the-fly revision in the field following a real-world disaster.
During the 2005 Hurricane Katrina disaster, there was no shortage of volunteers willing to pitch in and help, said panel member Lt. Gen. Perry L. Wiggins, commander, U.S. Army North/5th U.S. Army.
But the psychological impact of a radiological event would likely dissuade volunteers from approaching ground zero.
Those citizens who would step in to help would likely spread contamination when leaving the area, said panel member Bernd "Bear" McConnell, former Dual Command Agency, Coordination Directorate for North American Aerospace Defense Command and U.S. Northern Command.
"The human dimension (in a real crisis) is hard to replicate," said Wiggins in agreement.
Volunteers might also cause some headaches for first responders, Wiggins said. For instance, as they're coming in to help, they might also get in the way of the mass exodus of civilians fleeing the area and personnel who are assisting with that evacuation. They'd also need their own logistical support, including food, shelter, protective gear and decontamination.
Beside civilian and private industry volunteers, many Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines stationed in nearby installations would likely self-dispatch to the area, said panel member Chief Cathy Lanier, chief of police, Metropolitan Police Department of the District of Columbia.
"We saw this happen at the Navy Yard," she said, referring to troops stepping forward to help in the aftermath of the mass shootings at the Washington Navy Yard in September.
Those volunteer troops could help, Lanier said, but they might also get in the way. Their efforts would need to be controlled and coordinated.
Lanier's police force would not be the ones to provide that coordination, however, as the local police force would be securing emergency ingress and egress routes in the District. They would also work to establish landing zones. She said those two steps would provide an opening for federal agencies and all their resources to arrive at the scene.
Once federal forces arrive, she said they'd bring their enormous capabilities with them
Wiggins' U.S. Army North command would provide chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear protective and decontamination equipment. Also, he said, they'd help reestablish communications, as cell phone towers would have been destroyed. Search and rescue capability and medical assistance are other forms of assistance they'd provide.
The number of troops involved would likely be enormous, he said. During the Fukushima crisis, 120,000 Japanese Self-Defense Force personnel were deployed to assist with CBRNE, logistical and transportation requirements.
National Guard units would likely also step in to assist. The Emergency Management Assistance Compact, or EMAC, enables states to do such types of cooperation, said panel member Lt. Gen. William E. Ingram Jr., director, Army National Guard/National Guard Bureau.
The EMAC was invoked during Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita, with troops from the District, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands deployed to those hard-hit areas along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico.
Ingram said National Guard units bring very useful resources with them, especially their air assets. As well, Guard units are self-sustaining, meaning they arrive with the shelter, food and equipment necessary for long-term deployment.
Another thing that's great about the Guard, Ingram said, is they already have local connections and don't need to exchange business cards with fire, police and other local responders. National Guard units from the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia routinely train with local agencies and have personal relationships.
The Army Reserve as well would also add its muscle to relief efforts. Some 2,300 of its Soldiers have CBRNE capability and it has a large number of aircraft, engineers and medical personnel, said Lt. Gt. Jeffrey W. Talley, chief, Army Reserve/commander, U.S. Army Reserve Command.
"Like the Guard, we're everywhere in the U.S.," Talley said. " I can order reservists to active duty immediately if need be."
Besides the Army, the Coast Guard has a large capabilities set in the D.C. area as does the U.S. Border Patrol.
In addition to the expertise in guarding America's southern border, the Border Patrol has extensive search and rescue capability and a very large number of manned and unmanned aircraft.
"We have the largest civilian air force in the world," said panel member Chief Michael J. Fisher, chief of the U.S. Border Patrol.
Fisher said his aircraft could be used for thermal sensing, rescues, and transporting heavy equipment. The Border Patrol's unmanned Predators could provide real-time video feeds to the national response coordination center, flying in areas too dangerous for human pilots.
All of the panelists said budget impacts have or could affect their operations in terms of reduced capabilities. Each will have to prioritize what to keep and what to discard.
Talley said what's not used often gets targeted for cutbacks. For instance, his large CBRNE capability wasn't used in Iraq and Afghanistan, but that doesn't mean they should be degraded.
"They're needed as an insurance policy for the homeland," he said.
Another challenge besides budgets is authority.
With so many local, state and federal police and military forces in the D.C. area, who would be in charge?
"We don't know," said McConnell. "During Katrina, there was a period of disarray when no one knew who was in charge."
On paper, DHS is in charge, but during Katrina, there were tens of thousands of Guard Soldiers and Coast Guardsmen on the scene, not to mention all the civilian first responders there as well, so managing all that would be tough. And "Katrina was small compared to a 10-kt event."
On the question of control, Lanier was optimistic. "During the Navy Yard shootings, multiple law enforcement assisted with traffic and evacuation" on their own without worrying about who controls what.
"You don't want to get hung up on permissions," Talley said. "If something occurs you don't wait for authority. The American people expect action so you act."
Wiggins agreed but threw in a note of caution. During Katrina, a sheriff needed assistance and wanted to deputize a platoon of the 82nd Airborne Division, he said. The platoon leader agreed. The platoon was later told to stand down by higher military authorities because they didn't have that authority.
In Iraq and Afghanistan, Soldiers were in charge, he said. Here, governors take seriously their sovereign rights.
"It's not business as usual in the homeland,' Wiggins said. "Here, you're not large and in charge."
Rumors and misinformation are other areas of concern.
They're bound to occur in a disaster, said Lanier. "We saw bad info going viral at the Navy Yard shootings, some of it finding its way into the media. We aggressively pushed out corrected social media information."
Penn said social media can also be helpful. For instance, friends or relatives can be contacted via social media. They in turn can help evacuate and provide shelter for those they know rather than wait for the government to do it.
Speaking of the government, Lanier said people are often suspicious of the federal government. They'd rather see a local authority figure they know and trust on TV or social media delivering the messages rather than the head of a government department or agency.
Finally, Wiggins said that defending the homeland is a responsibility that should not be taken lightly.
When the Boston Marathon bombings took place in April, "news from Afghanistan fell off the front pages of newspapers. Americans have high expectations for homeland security."
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