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9/11: WMD Preparedness Now

Since 9/11 many American law enforcement agencies have bought equipment for responding to chemical and biological attacks. But are you really ready?

September 01, 2011  |  by - Also by this author

Mission First

Det. Mark Seibel of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department says that in some cases agencies have gotten ahead of themselves when it comes to WMD response. Seibel, who was tasked with establishing the LASD's WMD response and training programs back in the 1990s, says too often agencies contact him looking for easy answers to WMD response and they ask the wrong questions.

"A lot of them are getting grant money to spend on PPE, and they want to know what to buy," Seibel says. "But that's putting the cart before the horse. The first thing you have to determine is what is your mission. They want a two-minute answer on what suits to buy, but we end up having a two-hour conversation on mission, training, and then equipment."

Any WMD incident in an American city is likely to require law enforcement to assume a number of different missions. Tactical units are likely to go into the hot zone with fire department hazardous material (HazMat) and EMS personnel to provide force protection against "two-legged threats" and secondary devices; patrol officers will be used in the warm zone to guard decontamination teams and maintain public order and in the cold zone for perimeter control; finally, specially trained officers will investigate and collect evidence for prosecuting the perpetrators.

Each of these different missions requires different equipment and training. "If you skip that training portion, the mission capability and the equipment are nothing," Seibel says. "And if you don't know what you're doing with PPE, you can get people killed."

Training Resources

Like grant money for PPE and other equipment, training has been made available by the federal government and other sources. And many agencies have been taking advantage of it.

Robert Scarabino is a WMD response instructor with the National Center for Biomedical Research and Training (NCBRT) at Louisiana State University. The NCBRT is a federally funded public safety training program that emphasizes WMD response, and since 9/11, Scarabino has taught classes to agencies in all 50 states and in several territories. But he worries that some agencies have skipped training as part of their WMD preparedness.

"Many of them that procured the equipment got the training, too," Scarabino says. "But others bought the equipment and didn't take the training."

Scarabino also says there's been a marked drop in class attendance for his programs since the immediate aftermath of 9/11. "Attendance petered off about 2004," he says.

One of the reasons that agencies are more complacent about WMD training now than immediately after 9/11 is the economics of the issue. Training costs money and pulls officers off the line. Another reason that WMD training is unpopular at many agencies is that it's not by any means a pleasant thing to do.

"Historically police see respirators and PPE as a burden," says James Wilcox, global director of marketing and product management for Avon Protection Systems. "Historically, PPE has not been designed for them; it's been a leftover from another market."

Avon Protection and other PPE manufacturers have been making great strides in improving the gear and making it easier to use and more comfortable for officers. "We show them newer designs where these issues have been resolved," says Wilcox, explaining that today's PPE is much more comfortable and suited to law enforcement operations than it was even just five years ago.

Obsolete Gear

Unfortunately, many American law enforcement agencies acquired their WMD gear in the years immediately after 9/11 before it was improved. And that makes it harder for their officers to train and possibly dangerous for them to wear the gear in an actual incident. This is especially true if the equipment has not been maintained.

Comments (4)

Displaying 1 - 4 of 4

Morning Eagle @ 9/11/2011 10:21 AM

Complacency at all levels of administration and in public education and awareness is one of the most dangerous aspects of this deadly probability. It is a given that we know we do NOT know the number or location of terrorist individuals or cells that have infiltrated through our porous borders or have entered on valid visas issued by a lax state department over the past decade then simply melted into the populace and disappeared. Nor do we know precisely their intentions or access to the kinds of weapons alluded to here. We do know if they do not already have them, they are intent on acquiring them and that America will be one of their prime targets. Chemical weapons can be released into water supplies or in aerosol form in ventilation systems for example and do not require an explosion that would alert everyone that some kind of attack was taking place. The methods or scale of deployment are only limited by the imagination and degree of coordination in the terrorist planners’ minds and could be initiated simultaneously in many locations.

The allocation of available funding is directly affected by complacency or lack of understanding the threat. For many years prior to the first Gulf War the joke was NBC meant no body cares. Then along came Hussein. We knew he had chemical weapons and had used them against Iran and his own people causing massive casualties. Suddenly the emphasis changed and money for training and equipment was readily available. What we had then was Stone Age compared to developments since and agencies, especially in large metropolitan areas should at least have a solid core of well-trained and equipped personnel. Of all the federal agencies wasting tax dollars, the NBCRT may be one element actually earning their keep. The world of NBC defense is a very specialized one. Communication and coordination with experts in the NBCRT or elsewhere could mean the difference between life and an ugly death for thousands or more.

Tom @ 9/11/2011 7:33 PM

We have a lot of vulnerabilities. The power grid recently went down in California and Arizona paralyzing a large area. Next time it may not be operator error.

Rick @ 9/12/2011 9:18 AM

As long as the government continues with its open border policy, terrorists will continue to utilize the lack of security to gain access to the US. Hezbollah was recently found to be flying into Venezuela and then using drug cartel connnections to smuggle their operatives into the US. They have now reportedly set up a base in Cuba. Military magazine has been reporting for years that 70-80 middle easterners per year have been caught coming across the southern border; how many made it across?

Tom @ 9/12/2011 3:48 PM

Rick, with its focus on the guitar company that is using exotic wood, the cover up of the Fast and Furious operation and the Solndra scandal this administration is just too busy to be able to concentrate on the border right now. The president is still trying to pronounce corpsman and to know if the recipient he is giving the medal of honor to is alive or not. Don't worry, there will be a committee that will look at the border security in the president's next term.

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