Monday, February 13, 2012

HR 2356 Substitute Language

As I noted in my congressional hearing blog post this weekend the House Homeland Security Committee will be marking up HR 2356, the WMD Prevention and Preparedness Act of 2011. The Committee Chair, Rep King (R,NY), will be offering an amendment in the nature of a substitute and that will be the basis for the bill that will ultimately be approved by the Committee.

I have now had a chance to take a fairly close look at the substitute language. As is typical with these amendments, the vast majority of the changes are fine tuning the wording of the bill. There were some wholesale deletions of material, a few minor additions and one section was entirely re-written. None of the changes substantially change the almost paranoid focus of the bill on countering biological attacks on the United States. The bill still essentially ignores the most probable form of WMD attack, an assault on chemical facilities that would unleash a toxic chemical attack on the local community.


The following sections were deleted from the original bill:

§2104. Export enforcement for counterproliferation.

§2124. Laboratory biosecurity information sharing.

§2136. Federal law enforcement training to investigate biological threats.

There is no explanation given for any of these changes so we can only guess at the reasons. The deletion of the first section is due to the re-write of §2103 that establishes the National Export Enforcement Coordination Center. The last section deleted is almost certainly due to the inability to come up with the necessary funding to support a realistic law enforcement training effort. For the life of me, I can’t imagine why the information sharing section was deleted.


The following sub-paragraphs were added:

§2101(a)(4) “support homeland security-focused risk analysis and risk assessments of the homeland security hazards described in paragraphs (2) and (3), by providing relevant quantitative and nonquantitative threat information;”

§2102(c)(2) “allocation of resources for research and development for chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear attack prevention, protection, response, and recovery;”

It doesn’t appear that either of these are substantive changes to the language of the bill. I would be interested in having someone explain to me what ‘quantative threat information’ is.

Technical Error

The technical error that I identified in my post last summer on the introduction of the bill remains in the substitute language. The error is found in §2142 in the discussion of responsibilities for recovery from a CBRNE attack or incident. Paragraph (b) provides a listing of items that should be included in guidance to be developed for “for clean-up and restoration of indoor and outdoor areas, including subways and other mass transportation facilities, that have been exposed to chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear materials” {§2142(a)}.

Sub-paragraph (5) reads “maintenance of negative air pressure in buildings”. That requirement only makes sense in labs or facilities where CBRNE materials are stored or released so that the release will remain contained in the building. All other buildings in an affected area will want to maintain positive air pressure to keep the CBRNE materials out of the building.

For locations where a CBRNE attack takes place within a public building, this provision makes some sort of sense during the decontamination process, but that purpose is not made clear in the wording of this section. Even in this case building ventilation would be the most effective and safest decontamination for many toxic chemical agents as long as proper precautions are taken.

Major Shortcoming

The major shortcoming of this bill, and every WMD bill that I have seen to date, is that it does not address the easiest WMD attack mode, attacks on chemical facilities or transportation assets that release toxic chemicals into the community. While the CFATS program addresses security measures to help prevent such attacks on facilities and TSA rail security regulations work to prevent attacks on rail cars containing toxic materials (and no one is looking at protecting truck-load shipments of these materials), there are no provisions in either of those programs for community planning for response to successful attacks on those chemical assets.

At the very least the Metropolitan Medical Response System Program (MMRS) outlined in §2136 of this bill should require facilities that maintain significant inventories of toxic inhalation hazard chemicals to provide local medical facilities with material safety data sheets for those chemicals. Potentially affected medical facilities should be required to have a plan for responding to a mass casualty event involving those specific chemicals, including outlining initial and follow-up treatment regimens for the injuries expected from exposure to those specific toxic chemicals found in local industries.

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