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Oct-15-2007 14:18printcomments

TOPOFF 4 Exercise Begins in Portland

TOPOFF 4 will involve more than 15,000 participants from federal, state, territorial, and local governments, as well as private-sector organizations and non-governmental organizations.

nuclear bomb
Unlike a nuclear bomb, the planned threat is a conventional explosive that releases radioactive material into the surrounding area. Photo courtesy: neatorama.cachefly.net

(PORTLAND, Ore.) - From October 15th-19th, Oregon will test the ability of state and local governments to prevent, respond to and recover from an attack that uses a radiological dispersal device (RDD), commonly called a “dirty bomb.” Portland will host the exercise, which is one of the largest civilian exercises ever conducted. Three local governments will take part directly in the exercise, including the city of Portland, Multnomah County, and Columbia County, while at least three other county governments will be indirectly involved, including Washington County and Clackamas County in Oregon, and Clark County in Washington State.

This full-scale exercise will give state and local emergency management and response agencies the opportunity to test plans, procedures and equipment, while focusing on the following capabilities: evacuation/shelter-in-place, mass care, mass prophylaxis and communications. State and local participants will also benefit from close interaction with the federal government, voluntary organizations, international partners and the private sector.

The exercise will address issues in public policy and strategy, including mobilization of systems that prevent disasters, as well as those that respond to disasters when they occur. The exercise will require participants to make difficult decisions and carry out essential functions. It will challenge their ability to maintain a common, coordinated response to an incident of national significance.

Agencies and organizations will deploy staff into the field, just as they would in a real-world situation. They will face realistic challenges that relate specifically to the incident at hand, including allocation of limited resources and effective management in changing conditions.

Planning and preparation for the exercise will help strengthen working relationships among departments and agencies at every level of government toward preventing such emergencies and responding to them effectively if they should ever occur.

“Top Officials 4” is the nation’s fourth major exercise in emergency preparedness. Using resources that Congress made available to prepare for acts of terrorism, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security sponsors the TOPOFF exercises as part of a thorough assessment of America’s ability to prevent, prepare for, respond to and recover from an attack that involves a weapon of mass destruction.

Each TOPOFF exercise involves a two-year cycle of seminars, planning events, and exercises. The exercises enable federal, state and local agencies to identify ways to improve their ability to save lives and protect property when any major public emergency occurs, regardless of whether that emergency is natural or manmade.

TOPOFF 4 will involve more than 15,000 participants from federal, state, territorial, and local governments, as well as private-sector organizations and non-governmental organizations. In addition to Oregon, the state of Arizona and the U.S. Territory of Guam will participate. This is the first time a U.S. territory will take part in a TOPOFF exercise. Guam’s involvement will enable all participants to practice coordinated activities in prevention and response among the continental U.S. and a U.S. territory. Three international partners--Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom--will also conduct related exercises.

Oregon’s Objectives in TOPOFF 4

All agencies, states, territories, and local entities who participate in TOPOFF 4 are expected to strive to meet the overarching objectives of the exercise. But they will also strive to achieve their own individual objectives.

One primary objective for the state of Oregon and the Portland Urban Area include Emergency Operations Plans.

It is hoped the exercise will lead to the validation of state and local emergency operations plans, specifically those that deal with radiological/hazardous material events, public information systems, public health and the ability to deal with an event that overwhelms the capabilities of local and state governments.

Another primary objective is Timely Intergovernmental Coordination. The exercise demonstrates the ability to request federal resources in a timely and efficient manner, and incorporate those resources into local and state response. Another area of importance is making effective use of the National Incident Management System (NIMS), which is an organizational response to large scale incidents. NIMS gives local, state and federal responders a structured system that is familiar to all three levels of government.

State officials say terrorists have planned attacks in Oregon, Arizona, and the U.S. Territory of Guam. They have brought radioactive material into the United States. The first of three coordinated attacks occurs in Guam, with the detonation of a Radiological Dispersal Device (RDD), or “dirty bomb,” causing casualties and widespread contamination in a populous area. Within hours, similar attacks occur in Portland and Phoenix.

An RDD is not the same as a nuclear attack. Rather, it is a conventional explosive that releases radioactive material into the surrounding area. Although it does not cause the type of catastrophic damage associated with a nuclear detonation, an RDD causes severe problems in rescuing victims, providing emergency care, and managing long-term decontamination.

Challenging the Entire Homeland Security System

Exercises such as TOPOFF are an important component of national preparedness. These exercises help build an integrated capability to prevent terrorist attacks and respond to disasters of other kinds, making use of resources at every level, including federal, state, territorial, local, and the private sector. Equally important, the exercises help agencies prepare to recover from disasters that actually occur, regardless of whether they are manmade or natural.

The full-scale exercise offers agencies and jurisdictions a way to test their plans and skills in a real-time, realistic environment, and to gain the in-depth knowledge that only experience can provide. Participants will exercise prevention and intelligence-gathering functions, which are critical to preventing terrorist attacks. Lessons learned from the exercise will provide valuable insights to guide future planning for securing the nation against terrorist attacks, disasters, and other emergencies.

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Andy October 17, 2007 10:07 pm (Pacific time)

Very well written article that actually presents the facts and the goals of this exercise. Being able to work together is a key ingredient to avoiding past difficulties when combining agencies in response to a disaster, man made or natural. This is the only way to truely validate the contingency plans that each entity will have to rely on in time of crisis. Kudos for an unbiased reporting of facts.

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