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United States Can Do More to Prepare for CBRNE Events

06/20/2013 -  

A U.S. Navy barge departs to support cooling efforts at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in 2011. (U.S. Navy photo from Flickr/Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Mikey Mulcare)

How effectively could the United States respond to a CBRNE (Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and high-yield Explosives) event, and how well are we able to assist our international partners in the face of such disasters? That was the topic of the keynote address delivered by Dr. Paul Stockton, president of Cloud Peak Analytics, at a workshop titled “An All-of-Government Approach to Increase Resilience for International CBRNE Events” held in Washington, D.C., on Thursday. The event was hosted by the National Academy of Sciences and sponsored by the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

Stockton, who is a scholar in residence at the George Washington University Homeland Security Policy Institute, addressed the criticality of time in the United States’ response to a CBRNE event. “If you want to engage in serious life-saving activities, decontamination, everything else you want to be able to do, to save lives on a large scale during a CBRNE event–72 hours, maybe 96 hours, you've got a window in which to get your forces there and get lifesaving operations under way. You need to hit that,” he said. Stockton noted that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has made tremendous progress working with National Guard troops, who undergo rigorous training regimens for response to CBRNE disasters. “Every FEMA region now has a whole planned response force that can get to an event within 6 to 12 hours, and every minute is precious for life saving in these kinds of events. We’ve distributed our capabilities much more widely around the nation in each of the 10 FEMA regions so those capabilities can get to the event as quickly as possible so life-saving can be maximized against these threats,” he said.

Stockton pointed out that while the government has taken formidable steps to respond to a CBRNE event, more can and should be done to work with the private sector on disaster management. “The terra incognita where we've been making almost no progress…is building the capacity of the private sector in terms of preparedness for CBRNE events both at home and abroad,” he said. “Every big company, many medium and small-sized companies have plans for continuity of operations. They understand how to protect critical supply chains against normal hazards, against earthquakes, against other natural disasters. That's absolutely vital. And if you go to some of these large companies, you'll see they have emergency operations centers. You will see they are prepared to fare pretty well against traditional hazards,” he said, noting that this preparedness could bolster the private sector’s CBRNE response.

He added that the assistance of the private sector in a CBRNE event would minimize the damage intended by those wishing harm on the nation. “Ultimately for terrorists, even for state actors, their objectives are political: they want to cause political dislocation, they want to cause economic damage. [To] the extent businesses can be prepared, to the extent the private sector can partner together with government, to limit that damage, to limit the economic dislocation, that helps make those attacks look less attractive, don't they?” he noted.

In terms of international CBRNE events, Stockton pointed out that the United States has demonstrated its reliability as a partner for other nations, citing the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant disaster, which occurred in 2011 after a massive earthquake and tsunami hit Japan. “Certainly there are niche capabilities that are extremely valuable where the United States can quickly deploy some of those capabilities abroad, and we saw that in Fukushima where the United States provided terrific support in operation Tomodachi,” he said, referring to the U.S. armed forces disaster relief program that cost $90 million.

Stockton said the United States’ own nuclear and chemical facilities were able to draw lessons from Fukushima. “[Those facilities] have been working very, very hard with the support of the Department of Homeland Security, [the] Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and other federal agencies in order to make sure they have learned lessons from Fukushima, and that they have the preparedness they need in order to reduce the likelihood of such events happening here in the United States,” he said.