Archive for March 17, 2011
NYPD Plans “Dirty Bomb” Exercise
The continuing nuclear radiation crisis in Japan reminds us that not all nuclear threats arrive on a ballistic missile warhead.
Back when we covered the Homeland Security beat full-time after the 9/11 attacks, one of the big concerns of government officials and terrorism experts was the possibility of an attack with a “dirty bomb” – one that releases harmful nuclear material through the detonation of conventional explosives.
The latest exercise to test authorities’ ability to detect and respond to a dirty bomb is slated for the New York City area next month.
Unlike a nuclear weapon, a dirty bomb is not expected to cause massive damage to people or property – except in the immediate vicinity of the initial blast. What is worrisome about such a device – only half jokingly referred to by some as a weapon of mass disruption – is the release of radioactive material that could contaminate bystanders and the area around the blast.
And that could lead to long term problems including the quarantining of contaminated areas for months or even years, depending on the level of radiation released. Officials fear the crippling economic outcome if a dirty bomb was detonated in New York’s financial district or a key port facility like Long Beach in California – forcing their closure for months, if not years.
Washington, D.C. got a taste of that kind of disruption following the anthrax mail attacks of 2001 that sickened 17 people in four states and the District of Columbia. Five people died. Congressional and Supreme Court offices were closed for weeks to allow cleaning and decontamination, according to a Defense Threat Reduction Agency study conducted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. That cleanup cost $24 million and the disruption at numerous U.S. Postal Service facilities cost an estimated $3 billion.
More than one commentator has noted that Japan – which is much better prepared for most natural disasters than the U.S. – is scrambling to address the double threat to people and property, should the radiation leaks worsen.
Meanwhile, the New York police Department (NYPD) plans to conduct a full-sale dirty bomb exercise with regional emergency services entities next month, according to Bloomberg and other news outlets.
The NYPD, along with about 150 agencies in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, will be testing their ability to detect and respond to nuclear materials targeted for use in a terrorist attack. The exercise will run from April 5-9.
The exercise is being funded in part by the Department of Homeland Security, which has conducted several major emergency response exercises over the years, some of them involving a dirty bomb.