Agencies in the National Capital Region pool their resources to create a comprehensive, interoperable program to mitigate radiological and nuclear threats.
Fire chiefs all over the world fear an attack on their communities by terrorists using a weapon of mass destruction. The chief must choose and invest in risk-mitigation strategies that allocate scarce resources to prepare for such a response. This article describes the strategy taken by fire and police chiefs in the National Capital Region to combine resources in order to improve prevention, preparedness and response capabilities pursuant to a WMD attack.
The police and fire agencies within the NCR work together on regional strategies, projects and response plans under the auspices of the region's Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) and are organized under a Council of Governments. These groups work to reconcile national homeland security strategies, state homeland security plans and the NCR's Homeland Security Strategic Plan with local response plans. This arrangement is not unique to any region or locality, as we all have partners we rely on whose plans we must coordinate with.
In 2008, numerous independent efforts came together in a single project. Fire chiefs recognized a gap in the ability to detect and quantify hazards after a terrorist attack and were looking at a sensor network to develop plume models. Meanwhile, police chiefs were exploring several systems to detect illicit materials before they could be deployed by terrorists. In addition, federal partners were coming to the realization that their investments in local detection would not be able to detect illicit materials until it was too late to stop them. These projects came together in the form of a 2008 UASI grant to develop the NCR Radiation Detection Network.
The first step in combining the projects was identifying what an ideal prevention-and-response system might look like. The next step was to determine what parts of that ideal system translated to goals and objectives that were achievable given the current technology and resources. Ultimately a review of threat intelligence, risk assessment, technology reviews and available resource evaluation narrowed the focus of the project to radiation detection, rather than biological and chemical weapons.
The effort to develop a regional strategy struggled for the first year. The challenges faced by the working group were similar to that of many similar groups: a large number of stakeholders, subject-matter experts with different experiences, conflicting missions, limited resources, and lack of a dedicated staff. The working group reached out to its federal partners for expertise and assistance, eventually receiving technical assistance from the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office (DNDO), which assigned a team from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory to assist in developing our strategy. This portion of the NCR Radiation Detection Network became known as the NCR Preventative Radiological/Nuclear Detection (PRND) Program.
The NCR is guided by the region's Homeland Security Strategic Plan. This plan identifies strategic goals and initiatives to achieve, build, and sustain "an integrated effort to prepare for, prevent, protect against, respond to, and recover from ‘all-hazards' threats or events." The plan's objectives and initiatives that became the guiding principles of the PRND program are described in the sidebar.
The goal of the program is to detect and report unauthorized attempts to import, possess, store, develop, or transport nuclear or radiological material within the NCR. The output of the program is the development of a radiological and nuclear-detection architecture for the region. This partnership is part of a layered national defense system.
To manage the program, a PRND steering committee comprised of state and local agencies that are part of the NCR was formed. The purpose of the steering committee is to provide the leadership that is required for this program to function in a collaborative and effective manner. Due to the number of jurisdictions involved and the administrative tasks involved in developing and sustaining the program, the PRND program has several working groups, including those that address operations, equipment and training.
The program's goal is to develop an intelligence-driven protection strategy that will enable the ability to perform interdiction and special-event missions within the NCR. As the NCR encompasses the states of Maryland and Virginia, as well as the District of Columbia, it is necessary to encompass the entire region with the appropriate resources to maintain a regional preventative capability.
Sidebar: PRND Objectives and Initiatives
|Objective 1.2: Ensure response partners can communicate and share necessary, appropriate data in all environments on a day-to-day basis.|| Initiative 1.2.1: Develop and maintain secure data communications governed by common standards and operating procedures. |
Initiative 1.2.3: Share Geographic Information System (GIS) data between jurisdictions and other related data systems.
|Objective 2.2: Define, obtain and share appropriate situational information with NCR partners so that they have the necessary information to make informed decisions.||Initiative 2.2.1: Define essential elements of data and information for situational awareness for each discipline and all partners in the NCR. Then develop, maintain, and utilize business practices and common technical standards for situational awareness in order to make informed decisions.|
|Objective 2.3: Improve the NCR's ability to collect, analyze, share and integrate intelligence and law-enforcement information so that NCR partners receive appropriate information.|| Initiative 2.3.1: Ensure all NCR fusion centers share information through secure and open systems, produce relevant and standardized analytical products, and share information in a timely manner with appropriate NCR partners. |
Initiative 2.3.2: Ensure NCR partners have the systems, processes, security clearances, tools, and procedures to access, gather, and share appropriate intelligence, law-enforcement and classified data.
|Objective 4.4: Ensure the NCR has region-wide capacity to detect, respond and recover in a timely manner from CBRNE events and other attacks requiring tactical response and technical rescue.||Initiative 4.4.1: Enhance the NCR's ability to detect chemical, biological, radiological and other types of contamination.|
The PRND program will provide regional reporting, allowing NCR partners to see near-real-time radiological data. This data will inform resource deployment decisions and reduce the risk of radiation exposure to first responders.
The following program information and implementation details were developed through broad interagency workshops and working groups that were facilitated by the DNDO as part of the PRND strategy development.
Mission: The PRND program will provide a framework to detect and interdict illicit radiation sources as early and as safely as possible. Program goals include the following:
- Establish a framework and develop a process to ensure long-term program management, responsible use of equipment and funds, and continued cooperation between D.C., Maryland and Virginia.
- Improve preventative radiological and nuclear detection in the region.
- Develop an operational concept and guidelines for comprehensive alarm adjudication.
- Leverage existing intelligence-sharing protocols in support of the mission.
- Establish data-sharing to improve decision-making.
- Incorporate preventatiive radiological and nuclear detection into training and exercise programs.
Governance: The PRND steering committee will guide the effort from the start of the DNDO program assistance through the initial implementation of the program. The role of central coordination then will be managed jointly by the Council of Government's WMD and hazmat subcommittees, which will include D.C., Maryland and Virginia regional PRND coordinators who are responsible for implementing the program in their areas.
The role of the PRND coordinators would consist of equipment monitoring, maintenance, training, and oversight of the program within the assigned jurisdiction. The coordinators also would maintain communication with the board should unforeseen issues arise.
Grant funding for new capabilities or capability enhancements will be managed by D.C. Fire and EMS (under direction from the police and fire chief's committees, which will prioritize funding objectives).
Equipment: The PRND program will support the strategy by procuring and deploying a network and detectors necessary to meet the mission and goals. Minimally this equipment includes:
- Personal radiation detectors, pocket-sized devices that will be used by first responders as a primary screening tool to detect nuclear weapons, improvised nuclear devices, or radiological dispersal devices, i.e., dirty bombs.
- A radioisotope identification device, or RIID, a backpack spectroscopic radiation detector that is designed to find and identify concealed nuclear and radioactive material in real time.
- Handheld RIID radiation detector, which will be used as a secondary screening device to indentify man-made and natural radionuclides.
- High-resolution gamma spectrometer, which will be used for the identification and quantification of radionuclides.
Training and exercises: Preventative radiation and nuclear detection equipment and operations are unique compared with traditional radiation incident response. In support of the NCR strategy regarding PRND, the region will incorporate preventatiive radiation and nuclear detection into training and exercise programs as follows:
- Create a Homeland Security Exercise and Evaluation Program-compliant training and exercise program.
- Coordinate the training and exercise activities of NCR jurisdictions in order to maximize efficiency and improve interoperability.
- Provide training appropriate for specific roles within the PRND program.
- Develop exercise scenarios that emphasize the need for well-defined roles and responsibilities.
The DNDO training branch, together with their federal partners, developed the PRND training curriculum, which is funded by the National Preparedness Directorate (NPD)/and is delivered by contracted instructors in the vicinity of the requesting agency. It uses the personal PRND equipment of participants. The development and implementation of PRND training courses offers federal, state, and local law enforcement and emergency responders the opportunity to enhance preventatiive radiological and nuclear-detection capabilities.
Through teamwork, creative use of funding and federal partnerships, the NCR's fire and police chiefs have created a new, coordinated radiation-detection capability that can be deployed across the region. This system can be deployed in response to specific threats, against single or multiple pathways, or in support of special events. The implementation of this strategy will support and facilitate our next challenge: planning for an improvised nuclear device response. The cooperation gained and lessons learned in the strategy development process, in addition to the capabilities added, will become the basic building blocks of an IND response plan.
John Donnelly has 28 years experience as a firefighter and has worked with the District of Columbia Fire and Emergency Medical Services for 18 years. He currently is a battalion chief for emergency preparedness in the Homeland Security Division. Donnelly has a bachelor's degree in fire science from the University of the District of Columbia and a master's degree from the Naval Postgraduate School, Center for Domestic Preparedness.