>From Jane's News Briefs, 13/11/02
Jane's conference seeks to ensure that lessons drawn from bitter
experience are learned to counter the WMD threat
One point highlighted on the concluding day of the Jane's Weapons of
Mass Destruction (WMD) Conference, held in Washington DC last week, was
that WMD are perfect tools for asymmetric warfare - a handful of anthrax
in the mail system or a few bags of sarin nerve agent on a subway train
have a massive impact upon individuals and communities.
Dr Anthony Tu of Colorado State University gave a detailed account of
the Aum Shinrikyo cult's sarin gas attacks in Tokyo in 1994 and the
consequent police response to those events, in which 12 people died and
thousands were injured. One revelation here was the full magnitude of
the cult's nerve agent production: it had an advanced production
facility that created some 70 tons of sarin gas. The speaker
was called in by the Tokyo police during the crisis since he had done
work on the chemical composition of sarin. Dr Tu had discovered that
although the gas was non-persistent it did leave a tell-tale marker in
soil (an acidic by-product) which gave the Japanese police the evidence
they needed to link the attacks with the presence of sarin.
The lessons learnt from the Tokyo sarin attacks were that a special
force needed to be created and that on-scene decontamination was
essential to prevent cross-contamination with responders and medical
Richard Rupert and Major Tony J Intrepido presented a session on the
response to the anthrax attacks in the US following 11 September 2001.
The urgency and importance of the clean-up operation in Washington DC
was paramount, since Senators had to be allowed to return to Capitol
Hill to prosecute the war on terrorism. The speakers explained their
procedures for the decontamination of buildings and
dealing with contaminated mail. The huge difficulties of cleaning
buildings to ensure they were free from anthrax spores was considered.
Nobody had a 'template' to rely on and military experience in
decontamination techniques was not very relevant to this office-based
scenario. The actual safety procedures and work processes adopted were
similar to asbestos removal. Again and again the responders had to ask
themselves: "How clean is clean?" A committee of independent experts
was established to consider objectively the work progress before
re-occupancy was finally approved. The disposal of tons of waste was a
major problem, most notably the huge quantity of steel filing cabinets,
which had been scoured and cleaned on so many occasions that they were
rusting; only one plant in the whole of the US would accept the job of
smelting the scrapped cabinets. Lessons to be learnt were many and
included liability indemnity for contractors who were cleaning up the
Tim Tinker of Widmeyer Communications spoke about WMD and public
confidence. He explained the public fears associated with WMD - exactly
what the users of these weapons wish to create. They can be thought of
weapons of mass effect, and among these effects are the psychological
consequences. The importance of getting the right message across through
the media was identified as vital. Effective
leadership was also seen as important to minimise stress illness in
responders, according to Tinker, who said there was great benefit in
medical clinicians assisting the population following a WMD attack.
'Stepped care' was explained: a proven method of progressive medical
intervention to treat individuals post-deployment.
Stephen L Caldwell from the US Government Auditing Office (GAO) gave an
account of the US federal response to a WMD attack. His office was
tasked with auditing the preparedness of the federal government in
dealing with such an event. He explained that GAO staff were active in
reviewing guidance and plans to counter and cope with a WMD attack. They
were looking at all types of readiness activities and a summary was
given of the various contingency exercises. Funding was explained along
with the financial assistance given from federal government to
individual states. A discussion of the proposed new Department of
Homeland Security followed and how other departments will interact with
it. One of the most impressive conclusions drawn from the GAO was the
speed of reaction following the 11 September attacks in developing a
means to tackle terrorism.
Ron Herring from the company MSA explained the new needs of the first
responder. His experience in providing truck-loads of personal
protective equipment (PPE) to the responders of 11 September 2001 was
detailed. Herring stated the importance of training in PPE, along with
the selection of appropriate equipment and the stockpiling of it
locally. He cautioned against the procurement of equipment from dubious
sources, such as 'military surplus', and stressed the need to comply
with safety standards to ensure the kit met industry approval and
certification standards. One of the lessons learnt at 'ground zero' in
New York was that perimeter control is key to enforcing compliance with
PPE rules, with the most effective cordon being "a bunch of guys with
guns". In other words, armed police need to enforce a rigid cordon and
make sure that all responders wear PPE on site. The speaker stated that
although PPE was "basic stuff", organisations need to involve product
manufacturers in their contingency plans.
In addition to the above, there were also closed sessions covering the
training of first responders and domestic preparedness issues.
Finally, the two-day conference was summarised by the moderator, John
Eldridge, a WMD expert in his own right and the Editor of Jane's NBC
[Nuclear/Biological/Chemical] Defence. He echoed many of the speakers'
pleas for lessons to be learnt from the bitter experiences witnessed so
far from the use of WMD.
Marc A. Schindler
Spruce Grove, Alberta, Canada -- Gateway to the Boreal Parkland
“Man will occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of the time he
will pick himself up and continue on” – Winston Churchill
Note: This communication represents the informal personal views of the
author solely; its contents do not necessarily reflect those of the
author’s employer, nor those of any organization with which the author
may be associated.
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