Antiterror Test: Confusion, Communications Woes


A classified federal report says the largest counterterrorism exercise since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks was marred by communications problems, shortages of medical supplies and hospital rooms, and confusion over where the residue of a radiological attack would spread, the New York Times reports. The five-day exercise last May in Chicago and Seattle, known as Topoff 2, tested the response of federal and local governments to nearly simultaneous terrorist attacks with biological agents and a “dirty bomb,” a crude radiological device.

Administration officials said many of the problems identified had been corrected in the seven months since the $16 million exercise was conducted. An unclassified summary of the report is expected today. It cited “critical” problems in Seattle in trying to determine where plumes of radiological contamination from a simulated dirty bomb in the city had spread. As a result, rescue teams were uncertain for hours where they could travel without risking radiation poisoning.

The summary said that in Chicago the problems were more basic, and that the exercise showed that the city and local federal officials lacked an “efficient emergency communications infrastructure” to deal with a simulated attack with pneumonic plague, a deadly biological agent.

Emergency communications in Chicago relied heavily on regular telephone lines and fax machines, jamming phone lines for hours and slowing information among rescue teams. The summary said there was confusion over local stockpiles of medical supplies and antibiotics that could be used to treat exposure to the plague and other bioterrorism agents.

A major problem identified in the exercise – the federal government’s inability to provide quick, consistent reports on the path of radiological, chemical or biological agents released in a terrorist attack – is the subject of intensive study at the Homeland Security Department.

Clark Kimerer, chief of operations for the Seattle Police Department, told the Times, “We found, literally, hundreds of fixable things.” He said the exercise had led the city to order a $1 million mobile command center that would allow senior emergency response officers to move throughout the city.


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