Is the Country Prepared for Today's Threat?

By Sullivant, John | Security Management, May 1996 | Go to article overview

Is the Country Prepared for Today's Threat?


Sullivant, John, Security Management


As security practitioners, we face a major challenge going into the twenty-first century - the need to protect infrastructure assets against an attack by terrorists using explosives. We are now witnessing an increase of terrorist planning activity that would not have seemed probable just a short time ago.

U.S. law enforcement and intelligence communities have uncovered a number of terrorist related activities that substantially increase the domestic threat. But the country is ill-prepared to protect itself from attack in this new threat environment.

While the United States has the greatest alert notification system in the world, the country does not have a national antiterrorist emergency unit, organizational chain of command, or the capability to respond directly to a terrorist attack. With regard to terrorist countermeasures, we do not have a capability for the equivalent of a 911 call in response to a domestic terrorist incident.

A national response team capability does exist through the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), but both these agencies respond to incidents after the fact, when the damage has already been done. The ATF has developed a program to help federal, state, and local investigators meet the challenges they face at explosives crime scenes. This program involves specialized teams that can respond within twenty-four hours to any scene of a major explosion or fire. This specialized response capability is the only one of its kind offered by a federal law enforcement agency.

FEMA has the responsibility of dealing with the consequences of domestic terrorism. However, FEMA is ill-equipped and is not experienced in rapid and effective response to infrastructure attacks, including responding to the destruction of key portions of the power grid, water supplies, and other logistical networks.

Another problem is the lack of national security standards in this field. The Department of Transportation has not developed detailed guidance explaining how transit and port authorities could best meet security requirements, for example. Neither do industry volunteer guidelines exist. Without detailed guidance and standards, we cannot ensure an effective response to attacks.

Explosives detection capabilities are a concern as well. Current explosives detection methods are ineffective to cope with the terrorist threat of today, as they lack the range, throughput, and technical specificity to perform in the real-time operational environment necessary for transportation and infrastructure operations. …

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