Friday, December 19, 2008

Military Support for Chemical Facility Incidents

The web site has an interesting article about the potential use of the new ‘combat’ brigade that has been assigned to Northern Command (NorthCom) for ‘action’ in the United States. Those two words in quotes are included because of the discussions in the fringe blogosphere about how these units would be used to put down American citizens. Since these 20,000 (ultimately, only 4,700 have currently been assigned) have always been stationed in the United States, I never did understand the concerns. Not to mention the fact that 160,000 US troops had some severe problems keeping Iraq in control, a much smaller country than the United States. A mere 20,000 soldiers would have a hard time ‘controlling’ a good size US city. But I digress.

The article notes that the brigade being formed at Ft. Stewart, GA would be the first of three brigades that would be used to respond to, among other things, WMD attacks in the United States. That would include, presumably, attacks on high-risk chemical facilities. The idea being that these units would have the transportation (including air lift), personnel and equipment to provide the evacuation and medical treatment that will be necessary for a mass casualty type situation involving a chemical, biological or radiological event.

Government – Military Coordination 

With the fairly radical change in mission for these soldiers there will come a lot of planning and training. Most of this the military will be well prepared for. They have lots of experience in starting up new units or changing unit roles. The one major difference here will be the coordination of that planning and training with a whole new host of civilian agencies, principally FEMA, but other agencies in DHS as well.

The other thing that will be interesting for these units is that they will also have to work hand and glove with state and local government agencies. These will include State Homeland Defense agencies, but also law enforcement, fire departments, and emergency medical services. To make this type of coordination effectively, the Army is going to beef up the Civil Affairs staff (S-5, if I remember right) in these units down to the battalion levels.

Military Planning 

One thing that the military is very good at is contingency planning. A commander that is given a contingency mission provides his staff with a brief outline of his concept of how to deal with the mission. The staff then starts the planning process for that contingency, identifying tasks to be accomplished and allocating the men and materials necessary for accomplishing those tasks. Then subordinate units repeat the same process with their assigned piece of the contingency.

Not only does this provide the unit with a plan for the initial stages of the contingency should it arise, but it also gives the staff invaluable practice in the planning process. As plans are developed they are refined by conducting a variety of exercises, typically starting with a variety of staff war games. Eventually, if the contingency is high enough priority it will include exercises with troops. The exercises allow many of the bugs to be worked out of plans, but more importantly they allow the people involved the chance to think about their part in the plan in a way that simply reading the plan would never accomplish.

Potential Contingency Operations

I would like to suggest that a good way to select some contingency operations for these units would be to identify the Tier 1 high-risk chemical facilities in the unit’s area of operations and have these units begin planning for a response to a successful terrorist attack on those facilities. This would provide real-world missions and require the coordination with a wide variety of civilian agencies at a number of levels of government.

There would not be any necessity of interfacing with the management of the facilities. The mission statement would start with the assumption that a worst case terrorist attack was successful. This would avoid any of the potential problems of sharing Chemical-Terrorism Vulnerability Information (though the military would be well prepared for handling that type information due to their routine handling of classified material). While the fact that these facilities are Tier 1 is technically CVI, the identity of these plants should be well known to local authorities due to EPA reporting requirements. 

The general mission statement would include the definition of the situation; the location of the facility, identification of the worst-case chemical and an estimate of the amount of the chemical released. It could include requirements to:
Establish the limits of the contaminated zone, Isolate the contaminated zone to prevent looting and further casualties, Decontaminate all personnel leaving the zone, Search the contaminated zone to find and evacuate survivors, Provide triage and stabilization medical care for personnel leaving the contaminated zone and moving casualties to appropriate medical treatment, Begin decontamination of critical infrastructure within the contaminated zone, and Turn over the contaminated zone to civilian control.
The Advantages for the Military

 As with any contingency planning exercise the military will gain experience in planning for this new type operation. They will learn to identify a new type of ‘key terrain’, those critical points of the infrastructure that are important to the functioning of civil society. They will gain experience in identifying and opening lines of communication with local political leadership. They will learn how to interface their electronic communications with those of local law enforcement and emergency response personnel. Finally they will gain a better perspective on the equipment and training requirements for this new mission.

The Advantages for the Public 

The establishment of these new units may provide cities with the highest risk chemical facilities some hope for an appropriate response for a terrorist attack on those facilities. While appropriate security planning and execution is the key to prevention of such an attack, everyone should realize that there is no such thing as complete security. No city is large enough to handle the emergency response mission for such a large scale catastrophe on their own. The identification of a sizeable Federal response force, with the necessary manpower, equipment and training is a huge first step in reducing the potential size of that catastrophe.

But, it will only be effective if the appropriate planning is begun before the incident begins.

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