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International security has been primarily jeopardized by the prevalence of terrorism and criminal activities in various territories. The structure and the number of operations, linked with terrorism, have increased significantly. For example, apart from carrying out assassination and obliteration of massive properties, terrorists have now extended their activities to the cyber space. In the United States, the potential for terror attacks has become a major security concern. Tools of terror have transformed from guns and Molotov cocktails into more advanced chemical and biological weapons, which have more adverse consequences on the victims. The availability and simple application of these toxic and often lethal substances have made them very attractive for terrorists. For instance, it may take about ten to fifteen minutes after their detonation for symptoms to start manifesting on the victims. This makes them more effective for targeting larger groups occupying a larger area. In light of this, challenge it is, therefore, imperative that sufficient response and recovery measures be put in place to effectively handle and contain any incidences of chemical weapon attacks on the USA.
“A chemical weapon is defined as the munitions and devices, specifically designed to cause death or other harm through the toxic properties of the toxic chemicals” (Mesilaakso, 2005). A chemical terrorist incident is different from a routine HAZMAT (hazardous material) incident as it is deliberate, criminal, and intended to produce a large number of casualties and result into a large number of fatalities. In 2003, it was reported that a planned cyanide attack by Al-Qaeda on the New York Subway was aborted because there would be no enough casualties (Suskind, 2006). Therefore, it is evident that the target of a potential chemical terror attack would be a popular public utility like a train station, bus terminus, public institutions and other public places that attract many individuals.
“Hydrogen cyanide (HCN), also called a blood gas is a colorless gas or bluish-white liquid with a bitter almond odor” (Miller, 2001). Exposure to this chemical can occur through ingestion, eye or skin contact. This chemical poses a lot of risks on the thyroid and the blood system. Apart from this, the respiratory systems may also be seriously affected if an individual inhales it. This is because exposure to Hydrogen Cyanide mainly occurs through inhalation. Hence, “the recommended exposure limit for hydrogen cyanide is 4.7 ppm or 5 mg/m3” (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, 1992). This substance is usually composed of some toxic enzymes, which can interfere with the normal body functions. In the body, the enzyme system is responsible for the process of providing energy in the cells where oxygen is utilized. Therefore, inhibition of the production of energy affects respiration. When cell respiration fails to take place, it becomes difficult for the cells to survive, hence, they are destroyed.
Initial exposure to blood gas may lead to restlessness and increased respiratory rate. “Giddiness, headaches, palpitations and respiratory difficulties may also be observed in such victims” (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, 1992). “These symptoms are usually followed by vomiting, convulsions, respiratory failure and unconsciousness” (Mesilaakso, 2005). However, in cases of very high cyanide concentrations in the air, poisoning occurs rapidly, and it is not easy to identify these symptoms. In this case, the victim may suddenly collapse and die.
The Super Bowl usually attracts a huge crowd of fans in the stadium as well as large television audiences. Such environments present the best opportunity for terrorist to target a large number of civilians. This also enables them to broadcast to the rest of the people what they are cable of doing. Response and recovery procedures for such attacks should, therefore, be well organized. In this scenario, the New England patriots are playing against the New Orleans Saints at the Louisiana Superdome, which is capable of accommodating a crowd of 72,000 individuals. During the game, fans report a bitter almond smell emanating from the bathrooms. Serious convulsions are then identified among some of the fans. The convulsions become more severe especially among the individuals who have visited the bathrooms. The chemical substance is hydrogen cyanide.
In the above scenario, a number of local, state and federal agencies will be involved in the response and recovery of the situation. “The above incident could exhibit public health, economic, environmental, criminal, political and diplomatic implications, with potentially serious long term effects” (Suskind, 2006). Consequently, a significant incident like this one may require a well coordinated response across agencies and jurisdictions as well as political boundaries. The initial responsibility to respond to such incidences is usually vested at the local level. The following is a brief description of the offices, departments and agencies that will handle this situation, as well as their roles and responsibilities within the community.
In this case, the main elected or appointed official is the mayor. He is responsible for ensuring the public safety and welfare of the people of New Orleans. He will provide strategic guidance and resources as a response to the recovery efforts.
There will also be an emergency manager who will oversee emergency programs and activities. He will coordinate all aspects of jurisdictional capabilities. A part from this, he will develop mutual aid and assistance agreements. He will also advise and inform local officials about emergency management activities during the incident.
Other stake holds who will be involved in this recovery effort will include: departmental and agency heads of firefighting, law enforcement officers, emergency medical services, public works and environmental agencies. They will collaborate with the emergency manager during the recovery program.
These departments and agencies will apply their skills, internal policies and procedures to meet the response and recovery requirements. The firefighters will also be at hand to assist in the decontamination of the scene. They will also use the fire engines to contain potential fire accidents. The function of the law enforcement officers will entail sealing off the entire scene, and controlling the crowd. Moreover, they will try to mitigate the chances of further contamination of the scene. The emergency medical services will provide urgent medical support to the victims. For example, they will offer first aid and counseling services to the attacked victims. They will also facilitate transportation of the casualties to the nearby hospitals.
At the state level, the primary role of the government will involve supplementing and coordinating local efforts during and after the incident. The following State offices, departments and agencies will be instrumental during the recovery processes.
The office of the Governor will coordinate state resources and provide strategic guidance needed for handling recovery processes. He will communicate with the public and help locals cope with the consequences of the incident. The state military will also be involved in the recovery process. In this context, the military is mandated to seek Federal assistance, including presidential declaration of the emergency. The military will also monitor and suppress further attacks. Another officer who will be in charge is the State Homeland Security Advisor. He will offer advice to the Governor concerning homeland security issues related to that event. He will also serve as a liaison between the office of the Governor, the State Homeland Security and The Department of Homeland Security.
Another Agency at the state level that will be involved in the recovery process will be the State Emergency Management Agency, which will coordinate the state’s response to the incident. They will coordinate the recovery process together with other state organs.
When an incident such as this occurs, it may overstretch local or state resources. Therefore, there is need for the involvement of the federal government in the recovery efforts. The federal government will involve all the necessary departments and agencies. Although the president leads the federal government’s effort in dealing with complicated incidences, it is the Homeland Security and National Security Councils that provide the strategic policy advice to the president during complicated incidences that may affect many people. The overall coordination of the Federal response will be implemented through the Secretary of the Homeland Security.
Despite the authority of the Federal government, nothing should impede the ability of the state or local departments and agencies to carry out their specific authorities under all applicable laws, executive orders and directives. However, to avoid conflict of interest and duplication of roles, the principle of unified command will be applied at the federal, state and local levels to create cohesion between the departments and agencies.
As outlined in the Homeland Security Presidential Directive, the following responsibilities will be executed. The Secretary of Homeland Security will be the principle Federal official for the management of this incident. He will oversee and coordinate all the Federal rescue efforts during the recovery. The Administrator of Federal Emergency Management Agency will help the Secretary in meeting the HSPD-5 responsibility. The Attorney General, acting through the Federal Bureau of Investigation will be responsible for criminal investigation of the attack. He will also approve the Governor’s request for personnel and other Federal law enforcement support during the incident. The National Defense and Defense Support of Civil Authorities will support and complement the efforts of other agencies to save lives, protect property and the environment. It will also mitigate human suffering following the attack. Finally, the Director of National Intelligence will advise the President on intelligence issues related to the incident.
It is worth noting that despite the enormous amount of government resources and manpower, it is never able to completely deal with situations such as this on its own. Consequently, nongovernmental organizations and humanitarian societies such as the Red Cross should be called in to offer the necessary logistical and personnel support as may be required of them.
During emergencies, the efficiency and security of the country’s communication systems become apparent. In order to ensure effective reporting of terror incidences, proper communication systems should be put in place. Effective communication mechanisms will also ensure smooth coordination of all the agencies and stakeholders engaged in the recovery process. Radio calls and satellites have been widely used as primary communication channels during response and recovery processes of this nature. With regard to this incident, much information will be channeled via the satellite. “Satellite communication will be more effective since it is independent of terrestrial infrastructure and other obstacles that may disrupt communication” (Satellite Industry Association, 2000). Therefore, satellite communication is highly dependable when the land infrastructure is damaged. They are also more effective when offering interoperability between dissimilar systems and networks. For applications such as military activities and homeland security, satellites often provide the only practical short term solution for getting classified information in and out (Satellite Industry Association, 2000). Besides the satellite communication system, mobile phones will also be used as key communication gadgets.
During the ongoing recovery effort of the chemical weapon attack, there will be need to give some vital information to the public. This information will be relayed through various systems. For example, the mass media will be allowed to broadcast the unfolding events at the scene of the attack. This will keep the public properly informed about the progress of the recovery process. The information will be aimed at sensitizing the public to be vigilant about other attacks and risks that may arise in future. The public will also be informed about road networks that will be closed during the recovery exercise. The information will also be critical in preventing unnecessary panic and hysteria. Therefore, the information to be relayed to the public should include, but not limited to asking the public to stay away from the crime scene.
While attending to the scene, the first rescue team is likely to be faced with myriad challenges. This being a crime scene that requires safety measures, the rescue team will need special equipment to handle the situation. For instance, they will require protective gear to prevent them from any possible exposure to the chemicals. However, the mask alone is not enough. This is because chemical weapons can also be absorbed through the skin. Therefore, a protective suit, gloves and over boots will be used by responders.
Safe eviction of the huge crowd may also pose a serious challenge to the first responders. This is because quick eviction may cause stampede at the exit points, and this can lead to more casualties. For example, as people rush out of the scene some of them may sustain injuries. In this case, more exit points can be created to facilitate quick and safe eviction of the individuals. Since traffic snarl ups are likely to build on the roads around the crime scene, the paramedics should use helicopters to transport the casualties to the hospitals.
A safe room should also be made available to enable the responders have their meals safely without any risk of contamination. “Safe rooms are usually made using a positive pressure NBC filtration system that creates a positive atmospheric pressure in the safe room” (Miller, 2001). At the same time, air is allowed into the room through an NBC filter.
Owing to the nature of this incident, first responders should set up an appropriate perimeter to enhance effective management of the situation. The establishment of a perimeter will prevent people from accessing the contaminated area. Hence, it will help in enhancing the safety and security of those individuals who might not have been informed about the incident. The perimeter will be established as follows. First, the initial responders will be required to establish the perimeter in good time to prevent any further intrusion into the crime scene. By establishing the perimeter, people will simply know that the secured area is out of order. Hence, they will keep off. The first responders will create two perimeters in the crime scene.
The inner perimeter will secure the actual crime scene particularly inside the bathrooms where the chemical weapon was detonated. In this case, only the crime scene investigators and chemical specialists will be allowed into the inner perimeter. An outer perimeter will be used in securing the entire scene including the roads leading to the attack scene. This will mitigate potential interferences that may slow down the decontamination process. For example, there will be no public access to the area around the Superdome. The adjacent streets like Claiborne Avenue, Earhart Boulevard and Loyola Avenue will also be cleared.
The containment effort should be well conducted to avoid the spread of the toxic substances into other places. This strategy will reduce the number of people at risk of the contamination. The victims of the attack will need quick decontamination. This is because this chemical has the capacity to kill those exposed to it within a short duration. Thefore, victims will require proper first aid before they are transferred to other hospitals for specialized examination and treatment. In this case, decontamination will involve the removal of the chemical substances from the victims’ bodies. For instance, “small wipes used by the military called M-291 and M-295 can be used as they both contain a special resin that absorbs and neutralizes chemical weapons” (Sittig, 1991).
Treatment of the victims of the hydrogen cyanide poisoning will require supportive care that may include administration of oxygen and specific antidotes, which are composed of sodium nitrite and sodium thiosulphate. “Thiosulphate provides the Sulphur necessary for the acceleration of the conversion of cyanide into less toxic thiocyanate” (Sittig, 1991). The antidote should be administered carefully to avoid overdosing the intoxicated patients. The survivors of this chemical attack should also be advised to seek immediate clinical examination. This will enable them establish any infection. Quick handling of the situation is also important since time is usually of essence during a decontamination exercise. The decontamination exercise will also involve fire fighting engines. This is because there are usually high chances of fire accidents during such occurrences.
Some special considerations should be taken before carrying out the decontamination program. For example, the responders should be able to approximate the number of casualties. This will help in mobilizing enough resources for the decontamination program. Apart from this, the extent of the contamination should be quickly determined by the first responders in order to assist in planning for the decontamination logistics. For example, if the contamination is wide spread, more personnel will be mobilized in order to expedite the decontamination process.
The decontamination process should be carried out systematically. First, the detoxification of the scene should only begin after everybody has been evicted from the scene. This will be performed by the first responders for safety reasons. The eviction of people from the scene will also prevent unnecessary destruction and confusion that may stem from a panicking crowd. Secondly, after dispersing the crowd the decontamination effort should commence immediately. At this level the responders should first assess the nature of the contamination, before they begin clearing the mess. This is important because poor assessment of the situation can lead to wrong decontamination strategies, which may either aggravate the contamination, or deal will with it partially. Consequently, chemical experts will be instrumental in establishing the nature of the contamination. After that, decontamination process will be conducted based on the recommendations highlighted by the chemical experts. The next stage will involve proper disposal of the remnants of the chemical weapons. This is also another significant aspect of the decontamination process. This is because if the chemicals removed from the attack scene are not properly handled and dispossed, they may still harm people either directly or indirectly. The chemicals should be neutralized before they are disposed off.
Post decontamination is the final stage in this operation. Following the completion of the initial mass decontamination proper measurers should be adopted to avoid future occurrence of such incidences. For example, security should be enhanced during future gatherings at the super bowl. The damaged areas should also be properly renovated before the facility can be used for other functions.
Even as the emergency phase of the incident is handled, the incident itself ends only when the guilty persons have been successfully prosecuted. Since witness statements are usually conflicting, physical evidence may be one of the viable means of identifying and successfully prosecuting those responsible for the attack. Therefore, the evidence at the crime scene should be protected from any possible interference. In this regard, the first responders will, therefore, need to coordinate closely to ensure that important evidence is not tampered with.
They can preserve the evidence by prohibiting entry to the scene. They should also take photographs of the scene so that they may remember the exact position, orientation and condition of the objects at the crime scene. This will also assist them in future referencing. First responders are also encouraged to avoid interfering with the scene. This may also assist in reconstructing the movements of the suspected terrorist. The collected samples should be safely transported to the investigation departments for further analysis.
The responders should be very scrupulous during the operation. For example, they should not have direct contact with the objects or surfaces in the crime scene. They should also avoid leaving behind their fingerprints and other traceable evidence that may have the suspect’s fingerprints. Finally, all their operations should be carefully recorded using cameras and other data recording devices that will be applicable in the scene.
First responders should also watch out for evidence from the crime scene that may include traceable fingerprints, strands of hair and nail chippings that the suspect may have left on the device. In addition to this, they may collect samples of the chemical spillage. These samples will be important for further analysis of the chemicals used during the attack. Besides this, the chemical samples can also be used in tracing the origin of the suspects.
The chemical weapon attack may have some serious effects on the area it was detonated. For instance, the chemical may seriously affect the environment and this can be a very difficult situation to handle. The high number of casualties will also need a lot of medical resources and other necessary support. The decontamination exercise might also take several days, and it will affect several businesses around the crime scene. For example, if the roads connecting the facility are barricaded, there will be transportation problems in that area. The attack may also have serious ramifications on the future operation of the facility. For example, many individuals may shy away from using or visiting the facility in future. This is because some victims will suffer from psychological problems like post traumatic stress. Proper counseling of the individuals is, therefore, necessary.
In conclusion, terrorist events are usually unexpected, shocking and devastating. In most cases, they cause a huge number of casualties that could result into huge fatalities. The ability to cause massive destruction and suffering gives terrorist the view that chemical weapons provide a viable option for promoting their agenda of terror and fundamental ideologies. From the above discussion, it evident that handling a chemical decontamination exercise is complicated and requires a lot of support and coordination from various government departments. Therefore, proper measures should be adopted to suppress planned terrorist attacks.
Moreover, the government should be prepared to handle such cases when they arise. This is because lack of adequate preparation may lead to serious losses. Adequate financing and equipping of the relevant local, state, and federal agencies should be made a priority. This will make them more responsive to such incidences. For example, the responding personnel must be provided with proper equipment to ensure that they effectively carry out the decontamination program. Last but more importantly, the USA government needs to redesign and reinforce its security systems especially in public places. “This will improve the safety and security of all the people living in the USA” (Miller, 2001).