Week-long Exercise in Combating Terrorism Prepares Nation for Attack

May 15, 2003
Nineteen federal agencies, state and local emergency responders from Illinois and Washington State, and Canada are participating in a full-scale exercise this week, aimed at preparing the nation for possible terrorist attacks. The week-long event, called TOPOFF 2, is sponsored by the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of State.

The exercise simulated attacks in the Chicago and Seattle metropolitan areas. In the first event, held May 12, the state of Washington, King County and Seattle responded to a hypothetical explosion containing radioactive material. The state of Illinois; Cook, Lake, DuPage and Kane counties; and Chicago responded to a fictional covert release of a biological agent on May 13. The National Capital Region, including the District of Columbia, the state of Maryland and the commonwealth of Virginia, participated in the first day of the exercise.

The Canadian government, also engaged in the exercise. Canada's participation in TOPOFF 2 is in keeping with the commitment to conduct joint exercises, as outlined in Point 30 of the Smart Border Declaration Action Plan. Approximately 18 federal departments and agencies with counter-terrorism and consequence management roles are involved, as well as the province of British Columbia and the city of Vancouver. Canadian participation was coordinated by the Department of the Solicitor General and the Office of Critical Infrastructure Protection and Emergency Preparedness. Canada and the United States have a history of conducting joint counterterrorism exercises dating back to 1989.

The exercise consists of simulated weapons of mass destruction (WMD) incidents. Despite the rather real-looking simulation, there were no releases of any actual agents. While the exercise scenario, extent of damage and level of threat are based on a hypothetical situation and are not intended as a forecast of future terrorist-related events, they do reflect the current threat to the United States, said Tom Ridge, Secretary of Homeland Security.

"Protection against terrorism requires that organizations at every level of government and in the private sector work together in partnership to prepare for events and deal with their consequences," said Ridge. "TOPOFF 2 provides the opportunity to test our preparedness, and at the same time identify ways to improve response in the future."

In the Seattle area, 150 people were reportedly "injured" in the "explosion" and 92 were taken to area hospitals. First responders searched for 20 people believed "trapped" in the explosion, and two people were reported "killed."

In the Chicago scenario, where more than 150 hospitals participated, a large group of people were "exposed" to a biological weapon. Some154 people who were taken to hospitals in the area "died," while 338 exhibited flu-like symptoms associated with the biological agent.

TOPOFF 2 involves nearly 10,000 first responders; health professionals; "role players;" representatives from federal, state and local agencies; the Red Cross; and the Canadian government.

"TOPOFF 2 embodies the spirit of interagency and international cooperation that surfaced in the aftermath of September 11th," said Secretary of State Colin L. Powell. "It is this cooperation that will help defeat terrorism worldwide."

Over the five days of the exercise, federal, state, local and Canadian participants are engaged in unclassified and classified round-the-clock exercise play.

About the Author

Sandy Smith

Sandy Smith is the former content director of EHS Today, and is currently the EHSQ content & community lead at Intelex Technologies Inc. She has written about occupational safety and health and environmental issues since 1990.

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