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Interview with David Heyman - 2003-05-14


All this week, counter-terrorism drills are being conducted in a number of American cities. The purpose is to test the ability of top officials, firefighters, police and other emergency workers to respond to terrorist attacks in a realistic setting. Although the exercises have been planned, they do include surprise elements for those who are participating. Earlier this week, Carol Pearson spoke with David Heyman of the Center For Strategic And International Studies.

MS. PEARSON
With the five-day terrorism preparedness program, what is it that has been planned? How has it been structured?

MR. HEYMAN
Well, this is an unprecedented terrorism preparedness drill. It will take place across three or four jurisdictions throughout the United States. The first part takes place in Seattle, Washington, and there will be this so-called dirty bomb scenario, where an explosive device which has radioactive material in it is set off in the downtown Seattle area. That's the first step.

Subsequent to that, in Chicago, there will be a bioterrorism incident. People will start coming down with flu-like symptoms, and it will be discovered that they have been exposed to pneumonic plague. That's the second venue.

The third venue is in Washington, D.C., the Federal Government responding, because it's a terrorist attack, responding and coordinating the national response for those two regions. And then a new addition this year, unprecedented in this type of training exercises, we're bringing in the Canadians. There is an international component to it, folks from the Canadian Government are looking at cross-border interactions, particularly with the bioterrorism incident.

MS. PEARSON
Judging from what we've already seen, and I'm sure there are lessons learned from the actual terrorist attacks on the United States in September of 2001, what are the critical elements? Is it firefighters working with police and rescue operators? Is that what needs to be worked out?

MR. HEYMAN
There is a tremendous amount of moving parts in a terrorist response, and so this exercise actually has over 8,500 people coordinating across the country to respond. And let me just take you through the different levels of response capability.

First and foremost, on the ground, the first people to respond, the so-called first responders, are the firefighters, the emergency medical technicians, the hospitals, doctors, police, these are the people that would respond to the incident. You don't know it's terrorism initially. You just hear there's been an explosion. Or you get people starting to be admitted into a hospital. So, your first responders need to be involved in this.

Then, as they discover that this is not the run-of-the-mill accident or sickness, that in fact this was an explosive device that was intentional, there's radiological elements, they need to bring in other actors, the local officials and State government officials, the public health officials, law enforcement needs to bring in the FBI. And once it's determined that it's a terrorist incident, it becomes a Federal jurisdiction mandate for response. And that is, the Federal Government now takes over the investigation. The FBI has the lead. The public health officials from our Centers for Disease Control have the lead in the bioterrorism incident. And they must work together with the local and State officials and with each other.

And so when I say there's a lot of moving parts, we haven't had normal hazardous response plans in place where the law enforcement and the public health officials get together and work on things. And so they're getting together for terrorism. They don't have the same language. They don't have the same response capabilities, but they have a mutual interest right now. And that effort, the coordination amongst all of those parts, is the first and foremost thing we need to look at.

MS. PEARSON
Can events, or staged events, in places like Seattle and Tacoma and Chicago actually help people in New York City or Washington, D.C., or any other place that may or may not be involved, or really is not involved, in the staged events?

MR. HEYMAN
Absolutely. There are probably three ways in which the rest of the country benefits from an exercise like this. First and foremost is the Federal Government is involved in any terrorist incident, wherever it may take place. And so getting the Federal Government's response and recovery capability exercised and up to speed is critically important.

Second, the lessons that we learn that come out of this exercise, what worked, what didn't work, what equipment worked, you've got protective gear involved - of course, they're not really going to be testing the protective gear so much [as] in a real-life situation, it's a simulation - but they certainly know, for example, if people are overheating because they're wearing the protective gear too long - they start learning those types of things, that benefits other cities, which are buying equipment now, which are trying them, training [on] them, and testing them.

And the third, I think, thing, which is probably one of the most important things, is the public gets educated. We are in a new security environment now in the United States. No longer are the front lines in foreign countries, with tanks facing off against other tanks. The front lines are now in the streets and the cities of America. And the people that are required to respond and defend and protect us are the citizens, the police, the firefighters, et-cetera. And so citizens need to learn what they need to do, how they can be prepared, and what the government needs to do to cooperate with citizens in the event of a terrorist attack.

MS. PEARSON
A few months ago, in Washington, D.C., there was a farmer in a tractor who had gotten his tractor on the Mall and claimed to have explosives. It closed down three Federal agencies. It tied up traffic for most of the week. This is just one farmer in a tractor. So, can cities or municipalities really respond well to a terrorist attack, when you have one farmer who can shut down three Federal agencies?

MR. HEYMAN
Well, first of all, there are no other cities like Washington, D.C. in the country. The level of concern that is derived from a terrorist incident in Washington is probably different than the rest. The seat of government resides in Washington, D.C. You have Congress, the President and the State Department all within a few blocks of where this tractor incident took place. And I think this was also taking place just prior to the start of the Iraq campaign.

MS. PEARSON
The start of it, yes.

MR. HEYMAN
And there was a heightened threat level. There was great concern at that time that we were going to be attacked somewhere around the Gulf War. And so I think there was an abundance of caution taken with this particular individual. And that may have been because of the city and the circumstances we were in.

Does that mean a tractor will shut down every city? I don't think so.

MS. PEARSON
But does Washington have to prepare differently?

MR. HEYMAN
I would think so. My opinion is that while it was handled in a way that led to the eventual arrest of this individual, with no incident, no damage to any property or people, or harm to even the individual perpetrator of this, it did shut down the city for a period of time and in a way that perhaps reduced the confidence of the citizens that we could in fact deal with a well-planned, multi-personed, multi-jurisdictional response.

MS. PEARSON
How effectively do you think most American cities could deal with a well-planned terrorist attack?

MR. HEYMAN
Well, it's a general question, and I think each city is different and each type of terrorist attack is different. You have a spectrum of different threats that are out there right now, from a radiological device, the so-called dirty bomb that's being tested this week in the exercise in Seattle, you have bioterrorism, which requires public health response and perhaps mass casualty treatment, you have your normal conventional explosions, perhaps similar to 9/11, with airplanes, and you have perhaps chemical agents.

And then, beyond that, we're seeing of course the suicide bombers across the Middle East and other parts of the world which we haven't seen in America at this point. But depending upon the type of terrorist attack and the city's preparedness, some cities are better prepared than others. I can't be more specific than that, except to say, look, Washington, D.C. was held hostage by a sniper. And I think, while we succeeded in capturing the individual, the city was terrorized for quite a period of time.

MS. PEARSON
So, do you know personally what cities would do better at what?

MR. HEYMAN
To be honest, it's a broad question. Look, Washington, New York, Chicago, Seattle, Los Angeles are all getting special funds from the Federal Government to protect themselves. Because they've been involved in this exercise that's going on, and other cities that have been exercised, they have been training. And I would expect that a very small city in a very small town in a State with not a lot of people would probably be less prepared than the major cities as well.

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