Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Terrorist Attack as a Crime Scene

There is an interesting article on the Air Force news site, coming out of Vance Air Force Base in Oklahoma. It describes a recent training exercise conducted by an Air Force Office of Special Investigations crime scene investigator on how to process a hazardous materials incident. In all of our thinking about preventing a terrorist attack, it is easy to forget that a successful attack, or even a failed attempt at an attack, is at its root a crime.

When the smoke clears and the area is decontaminated, what’s left is a crime scene. It is the start of an investigation that should lead to arrests and prosecutions. A successful prosecution will require finding and preserving evidence from what is essentially a WMD incident. While it is expected that the FBI and other federal agencies will take the lead in the investigation, local first responders will be in the middle of any such incident long before the Feds get there.

This is certainly beyond the scope of a facility security plan, but it does show again why it is so important to bring the local emergency services into the security planning process as soon as possible. Cities like Charleston, WV or Houston, TX should be expected to routinely conduct training on chemical incident crime scene investigations. Smaller cities or cities with a less prominent chemical industry probably do not do such training. Early notice would allow them to get individuals and trainers up to speed on the necessary techniques.

DHS and the FBI should establish a training program for WMD crime scene preservation. The program would be aimed at first responders to a terrorist attack at a chemical facility or an attack with chemical weapons. Most students would probably be drawn from fire department HAZMAT teams. Priority should be given to cities with identified high-risk chemical facilities.

The course would include familiarization with the FBI 12-step procedure for processing an WMD incident site. It would concentrate on allowing the responders to recognize important evidence and how to preserve it until the crime scene investigation team arrived. It is especially important to identify these clues before the decontamination process is started.

While every effort should be made to prevent terrorist attacks at chemical facilities, emergency response plans for such attacks should also include a plan for processing the scene after an attack. This is not the responsibility of the facility management, but of the local emergency services. To effectively fulfill this responsibility they must be made part of the emergency planning process as early as possible

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