Both recent congressional testimony by senior administration officials and studies on weapons of mass destruction (WMD) have reminded us that chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and explosive (CBRNE) threats have not gone away. DomPrep40 member Major General Stephen V. Reeves, USA (Ret.), the former Joint Program Executive Officer for Chemical and Biological Defense at the Pentagon, reminds us not to “lose sight of the chemical threat, given the volume of toxic industrial chemicals and toxic industrial materials [TIC/TIM] present all around the United States.” Widely published information on the Web, he also points out, “magnifies the challenge, because it gives the bad guys the how-to ability to make chemical agents.”
The 1995 sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway by the Aum Shinrikyo religious cult is certainly one of the most memorable examples of a chemical attack. More recently, though, NATO forces in Afghanistan have overrun a number of al Qaeda facilities and found clear evidence that the terrorist network has been seriously researching and testing chemical compounds intended for use in new WMD attacks against the United States and its allies.
Top-level focus and battlefield findings should be enough to raise awareness among first responders and emergency managers on some of the issues they must consider with regard to chemical preparedness. Foremost among those issues, General Reeves says, are the abilities to decontaminate, particularly as relates to the lack of standards. “We need to improve independent verification of the reliability and effectiveness of commercial equipment in the chemical threat area,” he says. “Two particular decontamination capability gaps are in the areas of sensors for first responders and plume modeling for emergency managers.”
Certain broader issues are international in scope and primarily matters of foreign policy. Says Reeves: “We need to address how we and our neighbors north and south are going to manage cross-border chemical incidents, and how we and countries all over the world are going to track precursor chemicals from rogue states under some kind of regime which acknowledges these chemicals’ legitimate industrial uses. This has to involve the need for ‘taggants,’ whether RFID [radio frequencyentification] tags or chemical or physical markers in the compounds, for detection or for post-detonation forensicentification.”
With all of these issues and concerns in mind, DomPrep asked the members of the DomPrep40 to rate the chemical threat today and the current state of U.S. chemical preparedness. To assist us in that effort, General Reeves drafted our March DomPrep40 survey.
Key Findings: The DomPrep40 provided important, but also alarming, results. The chemical threat is real. U.S. chemical preparedness, however, is inadequate. And there must be clear and reasonable government standards for chemical detection equipment as well as an “approved products list” for Department of Homeland Security (DHS) grant funds.
CBRNE Preparedness Survey Results
DP40 members say, very conclusively, that a domestic chemical agent threat does exist.
A mere 12.5 percent of the members said that Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS) are well defined, well understood, and adequate. Obviously, there is considerable work to do.
The table above represents the DomPrep40 responses to other questions asked in the survey. Several additional conclusions, based on the answers indicated in the table, become evident, including the following: (a) seventy-two percent of the DP40 members believe that the United States does not currently possess a reliable means of attribution; (b) just over three-fourths say that DHS needs to change its policies governing the regulation of “chemicals of interest” and that there is a need for U.S. Government standards, testing, and validation for commercial chemical detection equipment; (c) only 12 percent are satisfied with EPA’s detection TPPs for chemical incident decontamination; (d) only one-fourth believe there are adequate training programs now in place that include the use of live chemical agents; and (e) four out of five say that the federal government’s Chemical Safety Board should require industry to report all chemical incidents.
Obviously, there is much more work to be done on what are primarily urban databases related to the potential impact of a chemical release.
The DomPrep40 has sounded an alarm strongly suggesting that there is much more work to do in the field of chemical preparedness. How does the DP40’s collective thinking compare with your current understanding? In Part 2 of this Chemical Threat and Chemical Preparedness survey, all DomPrep members now have the opportunity to weigh in and to agree or disagree. Take Survey Now!