NNSA Conducts 100th WMD Counterterrorism Exercise

Press Release
Aug 9, 2012

WASHINGTON, D.C. – NNSA’s Offices of Counterterrorism Policy and Cooperation and Global Threat Reduction and the FBI today announced the completion of the Bearcat Thunder counterterrorism table-top exercise at the University of Cincinnati (UC), the 100th exercise of its kind. The exercise is part of NNSA’s Silent Thunder table-top series, which is aimed at giving federal, state and local officials, first responders and law enforcement critical, hands-on experience in responding to a terrorist attack involving radiological materials.

NNSA began the Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) Counterterrorism Exercise Program in 1999. It has grown to include both domestic Department of Energy facilities and private sector locations such as hospitals and universities. The exercises have been carried out primarily within the United States, but have included foreign participants as well. In a first for the Silent Thunder series, an official from the International Atomic Energy Agency observed the Bearcat Thunder exercise.

“The President has stated that the greatest threat to global security is the danger of nuclear terrorism,” said Deputy Undersecretary and Associate Administrator for NNSA’s Office of Counterterrorism and Counterproliferation Steven Aoki. “The Silent Thunder exercise program, developed and conducted in partnership by NNSA and the FBI, directly addresses this threat. We recognize that reducing the risk of radiological or nuclear terrorism requires a whole-of-community approach that brings together officials and responders from the federal, state, local and facility levels.”

To date, NNSA and the FBI have conducted Silent Thunder exercises in 22 states and the District of Columbia, with plans to reach additional states in the future.

Today’s Bearcat Thunder exercise played out a fictitious scenario with terrorists infiltrating a research facility and attempting to seize control of a high-activity radiological source that, in principle, could be used in radiological dispersal devices, commonly referred to as dirty bombs. The participating officials worked cooperatively to assess and respond to simulated facility alarms and then manage the crisis as if it were actually happening. The goal of these exercises is to provide first-hand crisis management experience, facilitate coordination between multiple agencies and improve both security and emergency response methods. Exercises take place in select locations across the country with facilities that house nuclear or high-activity radioactive materials.

“From the University of Cincinnati’s perspective, this exercise allowed us to achieve a number of goals,” said UC Assistant Police Chief Jeff Corcoran. “We were able to evaluate the school’s procedures and tactical decision making, exercise our mutual aid and unified command structure, improve communication and interoperability between UC Police and surrounding jurisdictions and evaluate our emergency alert system and evacuation planning. Overall, this was an excellent experience that provided enormous benefit to the University’s preparedness.”

The exercise series is jointly organized and funded by NNSA’s Global Threat Reduction Initiative (GTRI), NNSA’s Office of Counterterrorism Policy and Cooperation, and the FBI. The federal agencies participating in Bearcat Thunder were joined by authorities representing the state, county and municipal agencies including the Cincinnati Fire Department, Cincinnati Police, Cincinnati Department of Public Health, Greater Cincinnati Health Council, Red Cross Disaster Services, Hamilton County Radiation Task Force, Ohio Department of Health, Ohio Department of Public Safety, Greater Cincinnati HazMat Team, Hamilton County Department of Health, Christ Hospital, St. Luke Hospital, UC and University Hospital.

NNSA’s GTRI, in coordination with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and the Department of Homeland Security, installs voluntary security upgrades at hospitals and other civilian sites housing high-activity radiological sources that are commonly used in medical procedures and other commercial activities. Preceding the Bearcat Thunder exercise, the University of Cincinnati instituted these GTRI radiological security improvements. These security upgrades further reduce the potential for theft or misuse of radiological materials that could be used in a dirty bomb. These voluntary upgrades are in addition to increased security enhancements required by NRC and NRC agreement states since 2006.

Started in 1999, NNSA’s Office of Counterterrorism Policy and Cooperation’s WMD Counterterrorism Exercise Program took on an expanded role following the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001. Since the program began, over 8,700 international, federal, state and local officials have participated in 100 different exercises. To promote full participation by state and local officials, Silent Thunder exercises are unclassified and utilize open source information for scenario development and are conducted in a no-fault environment.

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Established by Congress in 2000, NNSA is a semi-autonomous agency within the U.S. Department of Energy responsible for enhancing national security through the military application of nuclear science. NNSA maintains and enhances the safety, security, reliability and performance of the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile without nuclear testing; works to reduce global danger from weapons of mass destruction; provides the U.S. Navy with safe and effective nuclear propulsion; and responds to nuclear and radiological emergencies in the U.S. and abroad.