$25 Million TOPOFF 4: Good Training Or Just Theater?


Like all sequels, TOPOFF 4, the government’s $25 million blockbuster counterterrorism exercise, running all next week, will be bigger, scarier, and more expensive than the one before, reports Time magazine. Terrorists will smuggle radioactive material into the U.S. and then launch three coordinated dirty-bomb attacks in Portland, Phoenix, and Guam. More than 15,000 people will participate, from Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff to local mayors, police officers and nurses. Professional make-up artists will create oozing “wounds” for volunteer victims, and equipment will be flown in from across the country to detect and contain the “contamination.”

The news media are not invited. Says one “veteran emergency manager:” “We need to train with the media so the media becomes part of the team. You gotta build trust and relationships with the local media. But everyone is afraid of looking stupid. No one wants to fail.” TOPOFF exercises happen every two years, ever since 1998 when Congress, concerned about preparing for something like the 1995 Tokyo subway sarin gas attack, mandated that the government hold them. Time says none of them has been very realistic. Says Lee Clarke, a disaster expert who observed some of the 2005 TOPOFF exercise: “What we saw was just theater. It was just for show. If people really think this is preparing them for a big event, it’s a false sense of security.”

Link: http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1670823,00.html

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