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NNSA/FBI conduct 100th WMD counterterror exercise

University of Cincinnati

The Bearcat Thunder table top radiological terror response drill concluded at the University of Cincinnati (UC) on Aug. 9 was the 100th such exercise conducted by the NNSA’s Offices of Counterterrorism Policy and Cooperation and Global Threat Reduction and the FBI.

The exercise, said NNSA, is part of NNSA’s Silent Thunder table-top series, aimed at giving federal, state and local officials, first responders and law enforcement critical, hands-on experience in responding to a terrorist attack involving radiological materials.

NNSA began the Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) Counterterrorism Exercise Program in 1999 an it has grown to include both domestic Department of Energy facilities and private sector locations such as hospitals and universities, said NNSA. The exercises carried out primarily in the U.S., have also included foreign participants.

During the UC exercise, said NNSA, an official from the International Atomic Energy Agency observed for the first time for the Silent Thunder series, said the agency.

“The President has stated that the greatest threat to global security is the danger of nuclear terrorism,” said Steven Aoki, deputy undersecretary and associate administrator for NNSA’s Office of Counterterrorism and Counterproliferation. “The Silent Thunder exercise program, developed and conducted in partnership by NNSA and the FBI, directly addresses this threat. We recognize that reducing the risk of radiological or nuclear terrorism requires a whole-of-community approach that brings together officials and responders from the federal, state, local and facility levels.”

To date, NNSA and the FBI have conducted Silent Thunder exercises in 22 states and the District of Columbia, with plans to reach additional states in the future, according to the agency.

The Bearcat Thunder exercise, it said, played out a fictitious scenario with terrorists infiltrating a research facility and attempting to seize control of a high-activity radiological source that, in principle, could be used in radiological dispersal devices, commonly referred to as dirty bombs. The participating officials worked cooperatively to assess and respond to simulated facility alarms and then manage the crisis as if it were actually happening, it said. The goal of these exercises is to provide first-hand crisis management experience, facilitate coordination between multiple agencies and improve both security and emergency response methods. Exercises take place in select locations across the country with facilities that house nuclear or high-activity radioactive materials.

“From the University of Cincinnati’s perspective, this exercise allowed us to achieve a number of goals,” said Jeff Corcoran, UC assistant police chief. “We were able to evaluate the school’s procedures and tactical decision making, exercise our mutual aid and unified command structure, improve communication and interoperability between UC Police and surrounding jurisdictions and evaluate our emergency alert system and evacuation planning. Overall, this was an excellent experience that provided enormous benefit to the University’s preparedness.”

The exercise series is jointly organized and funded by NNSA’s Global Threat Reduction Initiative (GTRI), NNSA’s Office of Counterterrorism Policy and Cooperation, and the FBI. The federal agencies participating in Bearcat Thunder were joined by authorities representing the state, county and municipal agencies including the Cincinnati Fire Department, Cincinnati Police, Cincinnati Department of Public Health, Greater Cincinnati Health Council, Red Cross Disaster Services, Hamilton County Radiation Task Force, Ohio Department of Health, Ohio Department of Public Safety, Greater Cincinnati HazMat Team, Hamilton County Department of Health, Christ Hospital, St. Luke Hospital, UC and University Hospital.