Monday, April 09, 2007

Developments in WMD Response

A couple of brief items on emergency response for weapons of mass destruction:

UPI reports that the National Guard has certified a WMD response team for the Washington D.C. area:

The U.S. Department of Defense certified a Weapons of Mass Destruction Civil Support Team for the capital on April 6.

The team is trained to assist civil authorities in the event of a domestic threat of a chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear or explosive weapon. The CST will respond rapidly to a suspected or actual terrorist attack to determine the effects of the attack and provide situational understanding and technical consultation to local authorities.

Congress authorized 55 WMD Civil Support Teams to be fielded in every U.S. state and territory. The Washington-based team is the 49th team to be certified.

According to the DOD, the remaining six teams will be fully trained and certified by September 2007.
It's good to see this kind of progress. Of course, the real response to a WMD event - especially in a multi-jurisdictional area like the nation's capital - would be very complicated, involving a large number of actors. (See this post.)

For background on WMD CSTs, see this DoD regulation/instruction and this Army Field Manual.

A separate UPI article says that Duke University researchers have developed a test that shortens the time required to determine whether a person has been exposed to radiation:
The test scans the genes in a blood sample to determine the extent of the victim's exposure and produce results within the 72-hour window during which treatment is most effective.

"If a terrorist attack involving radioactive material were to occur, hospitals might be overrun with people seeking treatment, many of whom have actually been exposed and many of whom are simply panicked," said Dr. John Chute of the Duke Adult Bone Marrow and Stem Cell Transplant Program. "We have to be able to efficiently screen a large number of people for radiation exposure in order to respond effectively to a mass casualty event."

Current testing can require several days before results are available. However, Chute and his colleagues applied a technique used to measure the progress of radiation treatment in cancer to patients exposed to radiation from a "dirty bomb" or an accident at a nuclear power plant.

The next step will be finding methods of quickly extracting thousands of blood samples from a disaster area and getting them to a testing lab post haste, Duke said.
Given the likelihood of a "dirty bomb" radiological attack, it only makes sense to build the infrastructure for responding to this kind of event. Testing would be part of it. Decontamination centers (such as the new one in New York) are another.

Both testing and decontamination - as well as communication - would be important to decreasing the psychological impact of the event (e.g., reducing the number of "worried well" who report to hospitals). The "worried well" were a major problem in the aftermath of the 1995 Aum Shinrikyo sarin gas attack in the Tokyo subway. For more on the Tokyo attack and the "worried well," see these three reports.

1 comment:

Citizens for Rail Safety said...

This release may be of interest to you. If you would like to see the report feel free to contact me.

How Safe Are Our Railways?
Citizens for Rail Safety Outlines Details in New Penn State Study
Calls on Congress to Pass Comprehensive Rail Legislation, Chairman of Homeland Security Agrees

JUNE 12, 2007 -- Citizens for Rail Safety, Inc. (CRS) unveiled a study today by Penn State University, detailing the improvements made upon the rail while highlighting the glaring holes and therefore opportunities for terrorism.

“Citizens have the right to know what travels through their communities,” said CRS Executive Director Patricia Abbate. “The time of disaster is not the time to start devising plans. There should be practices in place that facilitate a coherent and efficient response plan,” said Abbate.
"Our nation's rail and mass transit systems have been left vulnerable for far too long. It is critical to the security of our nation that we immediately address this vulnerability and include the security provisions of HR 1401 which overwhelmingly passed the House in March to the 9/11 bill conference. It is time that we give the millions of Americans who ride our rail and mass transit systems everyday the security they deserve," said Chairman of the Homeland Security Committee Congressman Bennie G. Thompson.
Congressman Stephen F. Lynch, member of the House Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Relations, said, "It is time to take common-sense steps to secure and monitor our rail stations and train platforms and train our rail workers adequately in terrorism evacuation and HAZMAT response. After the terrorist attacks against railways in Madrid, London and Mumbai and threats against the rail system in New York, further delay is simply inexcusable. That's why I'm proud the Democratic-led 110th Congress has made rail security a national priority. By passing comprehensive rail security legislation in March, we have already taken a significant step towards safeguarding America's rail systems and ensuring that our rail workers receive adequate security training. I am grateful to Citizens for Rail Safety for their ongoing public awareness campaign and thoughtful research on a number of critical rail security issues."

The report, “Securing and Protecting America’s Rail System: U.S. Railroads and Opportunities for Terrorist Threats,” gives several recommendations to help ensure the safety and security of the American railways.

First and foremost, information sharing among state, federal, and local leaders needs to be more open and available, and when appropriate this information should be shared with the public. The study states another vital issue that needs to be resolved is the increase in training of the rail workers for a possible terrorist attack. The preparedness of the nation’s rail workers is lacking in HAZMAT and terrorist training. Strategies for a response to an attack or the derailment of hazardous materials must be implemented with coordination of officials for evacuation and the informing of the public is imperative.

Perhaps the key issue the study uncovers is the delegation of responsibility for this training and security, and the importance of the role of the federal government. According to Penn State, “Congress needs to pass comprehensive rail security legislation and allocate adequate financial and administrative resources to enhance security efforts.” Presently the government allots $671 million for rail security compared to $15.8 billion for aviation security. The federal government must assist the private rail industry to preserve the public from a fatal event says the study.

The research in the study found that there are too many vulnerabilities to America’s rail system citing the actions that took place in Madrid and London in recent years, lack of federal funding, policing, and training add up to the question of when will it happen?

CRS, a national non-profit public interest organization comprised of transportation consultants and concerned citizens advocating for national railroad safety and efficiency, is a member-supported organization. Membership is open to all citizens who feel that safe rail transportation is no longer a goal for the railroad industry, but is an obligation. Since its inception in 2005, CRS has commissioned four new reports. For access to the complete report and to learn more about CRS visit