Friday, December 08, 2006

Plague in Chicago and a Dirty Bomb in Seattle looks at the world of disaster preparedness drills:

The most high-profile exercise series began before Sept. 11. It is the Top Officials program, known as TOPOFF, a collection of seminars, planning events and large-scale national exercises designed to train and drill government leaders and others on preventing, responding to and recovering from terrorist attacks.

The scenarios are frightening to consider: pneumonic plague in Denver and a mustard gas release in New Hampshire for the first TOPOFF in May 2000; plague-struck Chicago and a dirty bomb detonation in Seattle three years later in TOPOFF 2; and releases of plague in New Jersey and mustard gas in Connecticut for TOPOFF 3 in April 2005. DHS' Office of Grants and Training, which now oversees the exercise series, has watched the scope expand precipitously from 18 federal agencies involved in the first drill to 27 - plus dozens of state and local departments and 156 private sector organizations - in TOPOFF 3. The cost has escalated similarly, from $3 million in 2000, to more than $16 million for TOPOFF 2 and $21 million for TOPOFF 3.

June's TOPOFF 4 Command Post Exercise - a precursor to next year's full-scale, TOPOFF 4 field exercise - centered on a weapons of mass destruction threat to Washington and a detonation in a fictitious West Coast city. More than 4,000 people from all levels of government and other organizations took part in the simulation. The cost of the three-day event, a test of communications for the weeklong field simulation next year, was $3.5 million.

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