In an emergency planning scenario, a terrorist attempted a suicide bombing at a Washington, D.C. subway station. Two hours later, three Cabinet secretaries were killed in a car accident. Airports in Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, and Chicago experienced electronic interference in their air traffic control systems. Intelligence reports indicated an imminent threat of a major terrorist attack in Washington.
The Washington Post reports that operating with those facts, more than 2,500 federal employees from 45 agencies left the Washington area Tuesday night and Wednesday for more than 100 secret sites to participate in the first test of how the government could continue operating in the face of a massive terrorist attack. “There has never been an exercise of this nature or of this magnitude, even during the Cold War,” said Michael Brown of the Homeland Security Department. “Our attempt was to get people focused on plans in the event of another 9/11. You don’t want to wait until disaster hits.”
“Forward Challenge ’04,” was run by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The goal was to train federal employees to operate as a shadow government away from their work sites. Some offices across the country also took part.
In the exercise, the “president” told agencies at 9 p.m. Tuesday to implement their “continuity of operations” (COOP) plans. By Wednesday, hackers had coordinated an attack on government computers and penetrated several power grid computer systems, severe weather was reported and the D.C. water supply “was at risk.” Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge and top aides went by helicopter yesterday to a secure facility outside Washington to observe the exercise. Speaking by videoconference from the undisclosed location, Ridge said the exercise, which officials planned for a year, had gone well. He gave no details.
Homeland Security officials said employees practiced everything from the basics of getting into locked buildings on the sites and turning on the lights in an emergency to communicating by phone and computer with other agencies. They also worked on implementing succession and delegation of authority plans, and tested their ability to access records and databases.