Five Years after 9/11, US Still Unprepared for Nuclear Terror Attack

September 3rd, 2006 - by admin

Anne K Walters / Deutsche Presse-Agentur & John Mintz / Washington Post & Council on Foreign Relations – 2006-09-03 00:06:02

US Unprepared for Nuclear Terrorist Threat, Report Says
Anne K Walters / Agence France-Presse

WASHINGTON (September 1, 2006) — Five years after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the US government remains unprepared for a nuclear terrorist threat, a nuclear nonproliferation group alleges in a report released Thursday.

Physicians for Social Responsibility, an advocacy and policy group that focuses on stopping nuclear proliferation and protecting the environment, said that as many as 52,000 people could die in a nuclear bomb set off on a ship in the port of new York.

Another 238,000 people would be exposed to direct radiation.

The group analyzed three possible scenarios, the nuclear bomb explosion in the New York City port, a dirty bomb explosion in Washington and an attack on a nuclear power plant in Chicago.

In the Chicago scenario, an attack on a nuclear plant, 7.5 million people could be exposed to radiation and 20,000 could receive a lethal dose.

Past official government figures have said a dirty bomb – which is a regular bomb laced with nuclear material – in downtown Washington would kill 180 people and contaminate 20,000 others. But the group gave no estimated figures of their own for Washington.

The report found that the federal government does not have a plan to respond to the surge in medical needs after an attack, has no system to determine whether residents should evacuate or take shelter, has no central coordinating authority to direct response and rescue efforts, and has no plan for sending an adequate number of doctors and nurses to the affected area.

Physicians for Social Responsibility became concerned about what the government would do to help citizens after a nuclear attack when it witnessed the slow response to Hurricane Katrina last year, Dr. Ira Helfand, a member of the organization’s board, said at a press conference to release the report.

The results of a nuclear terrorist attack ‘would make Katrina look like a rainstorm,’ Helfand said.

But the Department of Homeland Security, charged with protecting the country against terrorist threats, dismissed the report, saying it ‘fails to grasp reality.’

The department is focused on preventing such an attack by monitoring US ports and borders, Russ Knocke, a department spokesman, told the Deutsche Presse-Agentur, dpa in an interview.

‘It’s far better to worry about preventing that kind of attack and that’s where we’re focused,’ Knocke said.

Though nothing could be done to save those killed immediately, a coordinated response to treat others exposed to fallout from the bomb could save thousands of lives, the report says.

‘The governments’ ability to quickly and effectively evacuate communities or shelter populations downwind will be the single most important factor in minimizing the casualties and injuries,’ the report says.

The lack of a plan to tell residents whether to evacuate or stay in their homes is especially dangerous, the group says. Most people’s instincts would be to flee the area, but most residents will be safer from nuclear fallout if they seek shelter in the event of an attack.

The group plans to deliver copies of its report to members of Congress and the Department of Homeland Security, with the hope of striking a chord there, Will Callaway, senior policy coordinator for the group, told Deutsche Presse-Agentur, dpa.

Knocke, the department’s spokesman, says it is not true that there has been no focus on preparation.

He cited the department’s ‘Ready Campaign,’ which aims to get Americans thinking about what they would do in case of a terrorist attack.

The government has also stepped up the screening of shipping containers coming into the United States, and now scans 70 per cent of the containers for radioactive material, Knocke said. The department aims to increase the screening to 98 per cent by late 2007.

The report concludes that the government still has much to do in order to deal with the fallout of a nuclear terrorist attack. The US government needs to designate a central coordinating authority to direct the response and prepare for an attack; store medical supplies, radiation protection equipment and monitoring devices in high-risk areas; and establish a plan to communicate with the public and training medical first responders, the report concludes.

© 2006 dpa – Deutsche Presse-Agentur

US Called Unprepared For Nuclear Terrorism Experts Critical of Evacuation Plans
John Mintz / Washington Post

(May 3, 2005) — When asked during the campaign debates to name the gravest danger facing the United States, President Bush and challenger Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) gave the same answer: a nuclear device in the hands of terrorists.

But more than 3 1/2 years after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the US government has failed to adequately prepare first responders and the public for a nuclear strike, according to emergency preparedness and nuclear experts and federal reports.

Although hundreds of thousands of lives could be saved by rapidly evacuating people downwind of a radiation cloud, officials have trained only small numbers of first responders to prepare for such an event, according to public health specialists and government documents. And the information given to the public is flawed and incomplete, many experts agree.

“The United States is, at the moment, not well prepared to manage an [emergency] evacuation of this sort in the relevant time frame,” said Richard Falkenrath, former deputy homeland security adviser and now a fellow at the Brookings Institution. “The federal government currently lacks the ability to [rapidly] generate and broadcast specific, geographically tailored evacuation instructions” across the country, he said.

Security experts consider a terrorist nuclear strike highly unlikely because of the difficulty in obtaining fissionable material and constructing a bomb. But it is a conceivable scenario, especially in light of the lax security at many former Soviet nuclear facilities and the knowledge of atomic scientists in such places as Pakistan.

Two closely held government reports obtained by The Washington Post — one by the White House’s Homeland Security Council, the other by the Energy Department — describe in chilling detail the effects of a nuclear detonation, using the scenario of a strike on Washington. They make clear the need for split-second execution by top officials of the Department of Homeland Security if downwind communities dozens of miles away are to be saved — a level of performance that some experts say is well beyond officials’ ability now.

US officials say they are only in the first stages of planning ways to communicate with endangered downwind communities, via radio, television or cell phones.

Members of the public who seek information from Homeland Security’s Web site,, may not be getting the best advice, experts said.

Take, for example, a graphic showing that someone a city block from a nuclear blast could save his or her life by walking around the corner. The text reads, “Consider if you can get out of the area.” Nuclear specialists say that advice is unhelpful because such a blast can destroy everything within a radius of as much as three-quarters of a mile.

“ treats a nuclear weapon in this case as if it were a big truck bomb, which it’s not,” said Ivan Oelrich, a physicist who studies nuclear weapons for the nonprofit Federation of American Scientists. “There’s no information in that would help your chances” of surviving a nuclear blast or the resulting mushroom cloud, he said.

Homeland Security officials acknowledge they have lots of work ahead to prepare for a nuclear strike — a task they point out is extraordinarily difficult — but say they have made progress.

“A lot of good work’s been done, and a lot of federal resources are poised to respond,” said Gil Jamieson, who helps run the department’s programs to unify national, state and local emergency response efforts. “Can more work be done? Absolutely.”

Department officials also say they have made strides in the monumental task of establishing standard protocols and plans among federal agencies, and with state and local authorities, on how to prepare for and respond to different types of terrorist attacks.

Homeland Security officials point with pride to the nuclear response training given to 2,200 first responders. But domestic defense experts point out there are 2 million such firefighters, police officers and emergency medical personnel nationwide.

More of them need crucial training in the dangers of radiation, how to limit their own exposure to it, how to triage victims and how to decontaminate them, they say. Many experts believe the government needs to train responders in these techniques and, more fundamentally, decide what their jobs would be in a nuclear attack.

A 2003 report by the Energy Department’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), designated “For Official Use Only,” said the government lacks rules and standards for sending first responders into radiated areas to save people or warn them of approaching fallout. This would include standards for radiation exposure for firefighters and how to decide where to deploy responders.

The prospect of a nuclear strike “requires a fundamental shift in radiological protection policy for members of the public and emergency responders,” the report added. Officials said work in these areas has barely begun.

In detailing the consequences of a 10-kiloton bomb attack on Washington, the NNSA document, and another prepared in July 2004 by the Homeland Security Council (HSC), used different wind projections and assumptions about the government’s success in evacuating residents.

The HSC document, also stamped “For Official Use Only,” shows a radioactive plume heading east over Prince George’s and Anne Arundel counties, killing 99,000 to 190,000 people. The NNSA report describes a cloud moving northeast over Prince George’s and Howard counties, and, assuming less success in evacuation, estimates 300,000 deaths.

A blast from a 10-kiloton weapon would destroy everything within a half-mile, the reports say, and cause severe damage for miles beyond. Many people would suffer “flash blindness” from the explosion.

First responders would be unlikely to enter the blast zone but would establish care centers upwind to help victims who escape, the reports say. “Triage will be a major issue,” the HSC report said, noting that because of the huge numbers of victims, responders will have to turn away people too sick from radiation to survive.

In the end, years of cleanup of 3,000 to 5,000 square miles would be needed, the reports say. They also raise the possibility of forever abandoning many radiated neighborhoods. An atomic strike on this country “would forever change the American psyche, its politics and worldview,” according to the White House report.

The government also has failed to communicate well with the public about nuclear dangers, terrorism experts said.

In late 2003, months after the debut of Homeland Security’s Web site, Rand Corp. released a detailed study advising individuals on responding to various attack scenarios — but with starkly different recommendations. gave almost no information on which to base a hide-or-flee decision, beyond advice such as to “Quickly assess the situation” after a nuclear blast. In general, it advised going inside, underground if possible, and fleeing by car rather than on foot.

Rand, which in the 1950s was an architect of US nuclear doctrine, said going indoors “would provide little protection in a nuclear attack.” It said’s suggestion that people in the blast zone head underground after a blast is “misleading” because few people would have time to take that step.

Nearly Two Years After 9/11,
the US is Still Dangerously Unprepared and
Underfunded for a Catastrophic Terrorist Attack,
Warns New Council Task Force

Council on Foreign Relations

Overall Expenditures Must Be as Much as Tripled to Prepare Emergency Responders Across the Country

Full Text and the Executive Summary of the Council-sponsored Independent Task Force Emergency Responders: Drastically Underfunded, Dangerously Unprepared.

(June 29, 2003) — Nearly two years after 9/11, the United States is drastically underfunding local emergency responders and remains dangerously unprepared to handle a catastrophic attackn American soil, particularly one involving chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, or high-impact conventional weapons. If the nation does not take immediate steps to better identify and address the urgent needs of emergency responders, the next terrorist incident could be even more devastating than 9/11.

These are the central findings of the Council-sponsored Independent Task Force on Emergency Responders, a blue-ribbon panel of Nobel laureates, US military leaders, former high-level government officials, and other senior experts, led by former Senator Warren B. Rudman and advised by former White House terrorism and cyber-security chief Richard A. Clarke. This report marks the first time that data from emergency responder communities has been brought together to estimate national needs.

The Task Force met with emergency responder organizations across the country and asked them what additional programs they truly need— not a wish list— to establish a minimum effective response to a catastrophic terrorist attack. These presently unbudgeted needs total $98.4 billion, according to the emergency responder community and budget experts (See attached budget chart.)

Currently the federal budget to fund emergency responders is $27 billion for five years beginning in 2004. Because record keeping and categorization of state and local spending varies greatly across states and localities, the experts could not estimate a single total five-year expenditure by state and local governments.

Their best judgment is that state and local spending over the same period could be as low as $26 billion and as high as $76 billion. Therefore, total estimated spending for emergency responders by federal, state and local governments combined would be between $53 and $103 billion for the five years beginning in FY04.

Because the $98.4 billion unmet needs budget covers areas not adequately addressed at current funding levels, the total necessary overall expenditure for emergency responders would be $151.4 billion over five years if we are currently spending $53 billion, and $201.4 billion if we are currently spending $103 billion.

Estimated combined federal state, and local expenditures therefore would need to be as much as tripled over the next five years to address this unmet need. Covering this funding shortfall using federal funds alone would require a five-fold increase from the current level of $5.4 billion per year to an annual federal expenditure of $25.1 billion.

“While we have put forth the best estimates so far on emergency responder needs, the nation must urgently develop a better framework and procedures to generate guidelines on national preparedness,” said Rudman, who served as Task Force chair. “And the government cannot wait to increase desperately needed funding to emergency responders until it has these standards in place,” he said.

The Task Force credits the Bush administration, Congress, governors and mayors for taking important steps since 9/11 to respond to the risk of catastrophic terrorism, and does not seek to apportion blame about what has not been done or not done quickly enough. The report is aimed, rather, at closing the gap between current levels of emergency preparedness and minimum essential preparedness levels across the United States.

“This report is an important preliminary step in a process of developing national standards and determining national needs for emergency responders,” said Council President Leslie H. Gelb, “but the report also highlights the need for much more work to be • done in this area.”

The Independent Task Force, Emergency Responders: Drastically Underfunded, Dangerously Unprepared, based its analysis on data provided by front-line emergency responders— firemen, policemen, emergency medical workers, public health providers and others— whose lives depend upon the adequacy of their preparedness for a potential terrorist attack.

The study was carried out in partnership with the Concord Coalition and the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessment, two of the nation’s leading budget analysis organizations.

Jamie Metzl, Council Senior Fellow and a former National Security Council and Senate Foreign Relations Committee official, directed the effort. The Task Force drew upon the expertise of more than twenty leading emergency responder professional associations and leading officials across the United States. (A list of participating associations is attached below.)

The Task Force identified two major obstacles hampering America’s emergency preparedness efforts. First, because we lack preparedness standards, it is difficult to know what we need and how much it will cost. Second, funding for emergency responders has been sidetracked and stalled due to a politicized appropriations process, slowness in the distribution of the funds by federal agencies, and bureaucratic red tape at all levels of government.

To address the lack of standards and good numbers, the Task Force makes the following recommendations:

Congress should require that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) work with state and local agencies and officials and emergency responder professional associations to establish clearly defined standards and guidelines for emergency preparedness. These standards must be sufficiently flexible to allow local officials to set priorities based on their needs, provided that they reach nationally-determined preparedness levels within a fixed time period.

Congress should require that the DHS and the Department of Health and Human Services submit a coordinated plan for meeting identified national preparedness standards by the end of FY07.

Congress should establish a system for allocating scarce resources based less on dividing the spoils and more on addressing identified threats and vulnerabilities. To do this, the Federal government should consider such factors as population, population density, vulnerability assessment, and presence of critical infrastructure within each state. State governments should be required to use the same criteria for distributing funds within each state.

Congress should establish within DHS a National Institute for Best Practices in Emergency Preparedness to work with state and local governments, emergency preparedness professional associations, and other partners to share best practices and lessons learned. Congress should make emergency responder grants in FY04 and thereafter on a multi-year basis to facilitate long-term planning and training.

To deal with the problem of appropriated funds being sidetracked and stalled on their way to Emergency Responders, the Task Force • recommends:

The US House of Representatives should transform the House Select Committee on Homeland Security into a standing committee and give it a formal, leading role in the authorization of all emergency responder expenditures in order to • streamline the federal budgetary process.

The US Senate should consolidate emergency preparedness and response oversight into the Senate Government Affairs Committee. Congress should require the Department of Homeland Security to work with other federal agencies to streamline homeland security grants to reduce unnecessary duplication and to establish coordinated “one-stop shopping” for state and local authorities seeking grants. States should develop a prioritized list of requirements in order to ensure that federal funding is allocated to achieve the best possible return on investments. Congress should ensure that all future appropriations bills for emergency responders include strict distribution timelines. The Department of Homeland Security should move the Office of Domestic Preparedness from the Bureau of Border and Transportation Security to the Office of State and Local Government Coordination in order to consolidate oversight of grants to emergency responders within the office of the Secretary.

The Task Force on Emergency Responders is a follow on to the Council’s highly acclaimed Hart-Rudman Homeland Security Task Force, which made concrete recommendations last October on defending the country against a terrorist attack.

Established in 1921, the Council on Foreign Relations is a nonpartisan membership organization, publisher, and think tank, dedicated to increasing America’s understanding of the world and contributing ideas to US foreign policy. The Council accomplishes this mainly by promoting constructive debates, clarifying world issues, producing reports, and publishing Foreign Affairs, the leading journal on global issues.

• Full Text and the Executive Summary of the Council-sponsored Independent Task Force Emergency Responders: Drastically Underfunded, Dangerously Unprepared.


Warren B. Rudman (Chair) • Partner, Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton and Garrison • Former Senator, New Hampshire

Charles Graham Boyd • Chief Executive Officer and President, Business Executives for National Security • Former Deputy Commander in Chief, US European Command

Richard A. Clarke (Senior Adviser) • Senior Adviser, Council on Foreign Relations • Chairman of Good Harbor Consulting, LLC • Former Senior White House Adviser

William J. Crowe • Senior Advisor, Global Options • Former Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff

James Kallstrom • Senior Executive Vice President, MBNA America • Former Director, Office of Public Security for the State of New York

Joshua Lederberg • President-Emeritus and Sackler Foundation Scholar, Rockefeller University • Nobel Laureate

Donald Marron • Chairman, UBS America and Chairman, Lightyear Capital

Jamie Metzl (Project Director) • Senior Fellow and Coordinator for Homeland Security Programs, Council on Foreign Relations • Former National Security Council aide • Former Senate Foreign Relations Committee official

Philip A. Odeen • Former Chairman, TRW, Inc.

Norman J. Ornstein • Resident Scholar, American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research

Dennis Reimer • Director, Oklahoma City National Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism • Former Chief of Staff, USA

George P. Shultz • Thomas W. and Susan B. Ford Distinguished Fellow, the Hoover Institution, • Stanford University; Former Secretary of State, Secretary of the Treasury, Secretary of Labor, and Director, Office of Management • and Budget

Anne-Marie Slaughter • Dean, the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Princeton University

David Stern • Commissioner, National Basketball Association

Paul Tagliabue • Commissioner, National Football League

Harold E. Varmus • President and Chief Executive Officer, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center • Nobel Laureate

John W. Vessey • Former Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff

William H. Webster • Partner, Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy • Former Director, Central Intelligence Agency • Former Director, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Steven Weinberg • Director of the Theory Group, University of Texas • Nobel Laureate

Mary Jo White • Partner and Chair of the Litigation Department, Debevoise & Plimpton • Former US Attorney for the Southern District of New York

Emergency Responders Five-Year Unmet Needs Budget (FY04-FY08)*

Response Area • Need • Estimated • Five-Year Cost
• Fire Services • Strengthen hazardous materials preparation and response, and EMS, including equipment and training.
— $36.8 billion
• Urban Search and Rescue • Prepare fire departments and EMS for technical rescue and enhance FEMA’s national search and rescue teams.
— $15.2 billion
• Hospital Preparedness • Upgrade communications, personnel protective
• equipment, mental health services, decontamination and training for hospitals.
— $29.6 billion
• Public Health • Enhance CDC and epidemiological services; upgrade state and local public health department capacities to respond to terrorism.
— $6.7 billion
• Emergency 911 Systems • Implement a national emergency telephone number system with effective first responder deployment capacity.
— $10.4 billion
• Interoperable Communications • Ensure dependable, interoperable communications for first responders.
— $6.8 billion
• Emergency Operations Centers • Provide physical and technical improvements in emergency operations centers.
— $3.3 billion
• Animal/Agriculture Emergency • Response • Develop regional and state teams to respond to emergencies and enhance lab support capacity.
— $2.1 billion
• Emergency Medical Services Systems • Improve state and local EMS infrastructure including mutual aid, planning, and training.
— $1.4 billion
• Emergency Management Planning and Coordination • Enhance basic emergency coordination and planning capabilities at state/local levels.
— $1 billion
• Emergency Response Regional Exercises • Fund annual regional exercises.
— $0.3 billion
— $113.6 billion
• Undesignated offsets from federal grants**
— ($15.2 billion)
TOTAL — $98.4 billion

* These budgetary figures are based on estimates provided by the Emergency Responders Action Group. Where possible these • figures have already been reduced to account for anticipated federal spending in relevant response areas.

**This assumes a thirty percent match by state and local governments.

Emergency Responders Action Group • Participating Organizations

American College of Emergency Physicians • American Hospitals Association • American Veterinary Medical Association • Century Foundation • Council of State Governments • County Executives of America • International Association of Chiefs of Police • International Association of Emergency Managers • International Association of Fire Chiefs • International Association of Fire Fighters • International City County Management Association • Joint Commission on the Accreditation of Health Care Organization • National Association of Counties • National Association of County and City Health Officials • National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians • National Association of Public Hospitals and Health Systems • National Emergency Numbers Association • National Fire Protection Association • National League of Cities • National Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism • National Sheriffs’ Association • National Volunteer Fire Council • Trust for America’s Health • United States Conference of Mayors

Contact: Lisa Shields, Vice President, Communications, (212)434-9888 •

• In 2004, UCS released a report estimating that a terror attack on the Indian Point nuclear powerplant in New York could cause 44,000 immediate deaths and 518,000 longterm fatalitions. To reade the report,Click here.