Friday, September 11, 2009

S 1649 WMD Security

Earlier this week Senators Lieberman and Collins introduced S1649, a bill to “prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, to prepare for attacks using weapons of mass destruction, and for other purposes”. While news reports have concentrated on the bill’s effects on biological laboratories that house dangerous microorganisms, there are provisions in the bill that deal with the two other ‘common’ types of WMD, chemical and radiological weapons. Here we will specifically look at those provisions of potential interest to the chemical security community. Communications Planning Section 221 of the legislation would amend the Homeland Security Act of 2002 by adding §525, Communications Planning. This would require FEMA to “a communications plan for providing information to the public related to preventing, preparing for, protecting against, and responding to imminent natural disasters, acts of terrorism, and other man-made disasters [emphasis added], including incidents involving the use of weapons of mass destruction and other potentially catastrophic events" {§525(a)(1)}. This would certainly include terrorist attacks on high-risk chemical facilities as well as industrial accidents at those facilities that have significant off-site affects. Those communications plans would include provisions for the development of pre-scripted messages or message templates that would “be designed to provide accurate, essential, and appropriate information and instructions to the population directly affected by a disaster or incident, including information related to evacuation, sheltering in place, and issues of immediate health and safety” {§525(b)(2)(B)}. These pre-scripted messages would be developed in multiple formats to allow for failure of different communications media. Additionally formats for these messages would be developed to allow for communication with “individuals with disabilities or other special needs and individuals with limited English proficiency in accordance with section 616 of the Post-Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act of 2006” (PKEMR) {§525(c)(2)}. To ensure appropriate evaluation of the effectiveness of these pre-scripted messages, FEMA would be required to incorporate the use of these messages in any exercises conducted under the National Exercise program required by PKEMR. Additionally, FEMA would be required to report to Congress on the development and effectiveness of these messages. Plume Models While WMD attacks may have devastating local effects at the site of attack, one of their disturbing characteristics is the spread of the toxic after affects of such attacks in a down-wind plume. It thus becomes important to forecast where that plume will spread to alert personnel located downwind of what appropriate defensive actions to take to avoid or mitigate those toxic affects. While the military has long had very simplistic tools to determine the size and location of the toxic plume and to calculate the concentrations of the toxic agents within the plume, §222 of this legislation requires the Secretary to develop an integrated plume model “that integrates protective action guidance and other information as the Secretary of Homeland Security determines appropriate” {§222(a)(3)}. The wording makes it clear that the Secretary, presumably through FEMA, would be required to develop and disseminate an integrated plume model for every “nuclear, radiological, chemical, or biological explosion or release” {§222(b)(1)}. It does not limit that development/dissemination to releases that are the result of a deliberate attack. These integrated plume models would be distributed to Federal Government and State, local, and tribal governments and through such officials to “nongovernmental organizations and the public to enable appropriate response activities by individuals” {§222(b)(2)(B)}. This requirement to enable an ‘appropriate response’ would require either significant training of the public in the interpretation of the output of the plume model, or the very clear explication of the hazard zones and their appropriate responses on the distributed output of the model. Intelligence on WMD Section 401 deals with improving the nation’s intelligence on issues related to weapons of mass destruction. The section starts with a series of definitions, including a three part definition of WMD. The first part of that definition deals with chemical WMD which it describes as “any weapon that is designed, intended, or has the capability to cause death, illness, or serious bodily injury to a significant number of persons through the release, dissemination, or impact of toxic or poisonous chemicals or their precursors” {§401(a)(4)(A)}. This would certainly seem to include attacks on high-risk chemical facilities. The section then goes on to require the Director of National Intelligence to develop within 120 days of the passage of the legislation a “strategy for improving the capabilities of the United States for the collection, analysis, and dissemination of intelligence related to weapons of mass destruction, including intelligence related to the relationship between weapons of mass destruction and terrorism” {§401(b)(1)}. The Director would then have to report to Congress on the effectiveness of that plan every 180 days for the next three years. WMD Response Guidelines Within a year of passage of this bill, the Secretary of DHS would be required to develop guidelines “for responding to an explosion or release of nuclear, biological, radiological, or chemical material” {§502(a)(1)}. These guidelines would be disseminated through State and local governments to the private sector, police, fire, emergency medical services, emergency management, and public health personnel. The guidelines would include at a minimum {§502(b)}:
“(1) protective action guidelines for ensuring the health and safety of emergency response providers; “(2) information regarding the effects of the biological, chemical, or radiological agent on those exposed to the agent; and “(3) information regarding how emergency response providers and mass care facilities may most effectively deal with individuals affected by an incident involving a nuclear, biological, radiological, or chemical material.”
Bipartisan Legislation This legislation was developed to respond to the recommendations included in last year’s report from the Commission for the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism. Not only was that a politically balanced commission, but this legislation was co-sponsored by the Chairman and the Ranking Member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. This bipartisan effort stands a decent chance of being passed even in the current acrimonious Congress. Whether it passes this year or next will depend in a large part on how hard Sen. Lieberman presses it through the Senate.

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