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Armed forces prepare for dirty bomb attack
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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — It was Day 3 of NORAD-USNORTHCOM’s exercise, Vigilant Shield 08 and Top Officers 4, and the “reports” were coming in of the explosion of “dirty bombs” in Guam, at Sky Harbor Airport in Phoenix and at the Steel Bridge in Portland, Ore.
The Joint Interactive Agency Coordination Group staging the exercise to test the national response to the detonation of radiological dispersal devices was on duty.
“This is an exercise designed to look at the national response if we would have a terrorist attack,” explained Michael B. Perini, director of public affairs at NORAD-USNORTHCOM. “The goal of the JIACG is to work out the coordination and processes we need as a nation to manage the terrorist emergency and to do that in a very realistic environment so if it happens for real.
“We want to avoid having to exchange business cards at the scene of the accident, as it were,” Perini stressed.
The JIACG involves 40 or more “resident” agencies of the federal government that have assigned permanent representatives to the NORAD-USNORTHCOM headquarters at Peterson Air Force base in Colorado Springs, Colo.
Additionally, some 20 non-governmental partners, including private enterprise, are linked by computer and teleconference into the daily JIACG assessment meeting that convenes in the “battle cell” at 9:30 each morning during the exercise.
State and local government players in the field are linked into the daily JIACG assessment from the NORAD-USNORTHCOM headquarters, with resident players participating in person and remote players by communications with players in the field.
“This is all about relationship building,” Perini said. “It’s all about collaboration and coordination.
“A challenge for us here at NORAD-USNORTHCOM is that we are in support,” Perini acknowledged. “So, we are doing everything we can to work at the local, state and federal levels to be able to show people that if they need certain talent, equipment or expertise, the military is there to help.”
Michael Kucharek, current operations chief tasked with media relations and Web management in NORAD-USNORTHCOM public affairs, explained the history and context of the NORAD-USNORTHCOM mission that led to the simulation exercise.
“USNORTHCOM was created in the wake of 9/11,” Kucharek began. “Obviously, there was before no combatant command responsible for defending the continental United States. Before then it was mostly law enforcement left to the states and U.S. Code Title 14 authority under the Coast Guard for maritime. The terrorist attack on 9/11 was the catalyst for U.S. Northern Command coming into existence.”
Kucharek said USNORTHCOM has ‘two basic missions: defense support of civil authorities defined by the National Response Plan on how we support that effort and then also homeland defense.”
“Now what is homeland defense?” Kucharek asked. “It’s preventing attacks before they would occur and to defeat any aggressions aimed at the United States. Our role is to support the state and local governments, to bring Department of Defense military resources to bear in a national emergency when the states and local governments need help.”
The national exercises eventually will include all 50 states and the territories.
“This way, when something happens in a particular state, we have a better chance that everybody knows what their lanes of responsibility are in advance,” he said.
“That way we at USNORTHCOM hope to avoid being the 800-pound guerilla coming in,” Kucharek continued. “We want to avoid disrupting what the states and their emergency operations centers and emergency operations managers have to put in place to mitigate the emergency for the citizens of their states.”
“Our goal is to ask, ‘What is the unique capability that the Department of Defense Title 10 forces would offer, as opposed to something that the National Guard doesn’t have?’” Kucharek said.
“So, we are building relationships at the state level, so they know what we’re all about, what we can provide, what we can’t provide, and what our intentions are,” he continued. “We’re available and leaning forward for the states when they request it, once we get approval from the secretary of defense.”
A new National Response Framework, superseding the current National Response Plan, has been drafted and placed on the Department of Homeland Security Web site for comment.
Kucharek walked through how a Request for Assistance, or RFA, will work under the National Response Framework, all the way from first responders to the national level.
“In any emergency, the state local assets are the first response,” he said. “What those resources are not sufficient, then there’s a Request for Assistance that goes out from the state governor to the president that says, ‘Hey, we need some help here. Can you help us out?’
“From there, the president would direct some kind of response from the Department of Defense,” Kucharek said. “Then a Department of Defense-approved mission assignment comes forward and from there we would deploy forces through our force providers to get assets on the ground.”
“There’s a formal process,” Kucharek said. “When an RFA comes in, a mission assignment is given, but only after being directed by the president or the secretary of defense.”
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