Detecting & Preventing Nuclear/Radioactive Materials

This case study from a 2015 deployment to the U.S. Marine Corps (USMC) Combined Arms Training Center (CATC) Camp in Fuji, Japan, demonstrates effective ways to detect and prevent unwanted nuclear and radioactive materials from being brought aboard an overseas USMC installation. The author was deployed as the emergency manager (EM) with the collateral duty of being the chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and high-yield explosive (CBRNE) protection officer (CPO). Upon arrival, the commanding officer also appointed him to serve as the alternate antiterrorism officer, with full support from his contracting company, Camber Corporation.

The immediate challenges for the EM/CPO involved establishing peer networks and conducting a mission assurance assessment to determine protection needs for the CATC. The first step was to reach out to the emergency managers at other bases in the Kanto Planes: Camp Zama, Atsugi Naval Airfield, Yokota Air Base, and Yokosuka Naval Station. If one of the bases faced an emergency, they may need assistance from the other installations. If one of their EOCs was activated, the EM/CPO would stand up the CATC’s EOC as well. Networking also involved reaching out to fellow emergency managers and CPOs aboard Marine Corps Base Okinawa and asking the base fire chief, who was bilingual, to accompany when visiting the base fire department at the Takigahara Garrison, which was located literally across the street from the CATC.

The other key challenge for the EM/CPO was to protect the CATC from radiological threats as well as to be able to assist the host nation, Japan, respond to and mitigate a radiological threat, should leaders ask for assistance. The U.S. Marines assigned to the CATC helped during operation Tomodachi following the earthquake and tsunami in 2011 and the goal was for the CATC to be ready to respond if Japan needed help again. A combination of training, equipment, and exercises were used to accomplish this goal.

Established Practices

Prior to arrival of the EM/CPO, there was not a consistent emergency management presence aboard the CATC for a variety of reasons. The commanding officer and the other stakeholders –explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) officer, provost marshal (similarly to a civilian chief of police), safety officer, and base fire chief – were not used to working with a proactive emergency manager. The installation emergency management plan was outdated and had not been exercised regularly.

Every military base has a cache of CBRNE equipment including bomb suits, atmospheric meters and monitors, chemical protective outer garments, respiratory protection, and CWA detectors assigned to it based on the threats identified in its hazard and vulnerability assessment. However, in the CATC’s case in 2015, its cache of CBRNE equipment was stationary, nicely stored on shelves. After the EM/CPO had time to assess the situation and meet with stakeholders, a plan was established to issue out the CBRNE equipment to better protect the CATC. The equipment was assigned to specific personnel who were responsible for training on it and maintaining it to ensure it was ready at all times.

New Practices

Because the security forces are the primary deterrent for CBRNE threats, they were issued personal handheld radiation detectors to be worn while on duty. If the handheld detectors alarm, the base fire department would respond and utilize several different radiation detectors to confirm (or deny) the initial radiation alarm and identify specific radioactive isotopes. If further analysis were needed, the CPO, the safety officer, and the EOD officer would determine the best course of action. The EOD unit assigned to the CATC were already issued the regular suite of radiation detectors as well as the established reach-back capabilities to request further analysis, personnel, and assets to respond to and mitigate any radiological threat. Fixed radiation detectors were also placed at the entry control points to screen vehicles and personnel entering and leaving the CATC.

Coordinating with Marine Corps Installation Command, a semi-annual schedule was established for its Regional CBRNE Equipment Training Team to visit the CATC. Its cadre of instructors provided the security forces (both U.S. and local Japanese) 40 hours of CBRNE training, which included interactive, classroom lectures, hands-on practice with the CBRNE meters, monitors, and detectors, as well as functional exercises. It was important for the CPO to be present during the classes and help design the exercises. Because they taught both U.S. Marines and local nationals, an interpreter also accompanied the Regional CBRNE Equipment Training Team.

Monthly exercises – both tabletop and functional – were established to include radiological threats, like radiological dispersal devices. The EOD unit served as a “red cell” and helped create realistic, safe, and functional exercises to test and evaluate the CATC’s response to all-hazards threats, like suspect mail received in the mailroom. With the support of Marine Corps Installation Command and a newly established network, there was buy-in from the commanding officer and other stakeholders to mature the emergency management plan and heighten the security posture of the CATC in Fuji.

The CATC Since 2015

Since departing in 2015, the changes made are still in place. Fortunately, the succeeding CPO from Marine Corps Base Okinawa continues to evolve the program. The lessons learned from this were to establish a network of peers and empower first responders by equipping and training them.

Ian Pleet

Ian Pleet is a veteran U.S. Navy Hospital Corpsman and has worked as a contractor in U.S. Northern Command (USNORTHCOM), U.S. Indo-Pacific Command (USINDOPACOM), and U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM). He is a Change Management Advanced Practitioner, FEMA Professional Continuity Practitioner, and Nationally Registered EMT.



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