US National Planning Scenarios and exercises

The US has a list of National Planning Scenarios for use in major exercises. Scarcely a day passes without some sort of exercise there, usually with a terrorist-based scenario.

The document, “NATIONAL PLANNING SCENARIOS”, is a draft dated April 2005 and was written by “The Federal interagency – coordinated by the Homeland Security Council (HSC) and in partnership with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)”. It describes a set of scenarios designed “to be the foundational structure for the development of national preparedness standards from which homeland security capabilities can be measured because they represent threats or hazards of national significance with high consequence….The scenarios are broadly applicable and focus on a range of capabilities…. the scenarios can provide the design basis for exercises throughout the Nation. They have been developed in a way that allows them to be adapted to local conditions. Although certain areas have special concerns … every part of the United States is vulnerable to one or more major hazards.”

What are the scenarios?

According to a list (downloadable from the internet, but marked for official use only) there are
1. Nuclear Detonation – 10-Kiloton Improvised Nuclear Device
2. Biological Attack – Aerosol Anthrax.
3. Biological Disease Outbreak – Pandemic Influenza.
4. Biological Attack – Plague
5. Chemical Attack – Blister Agent (an ingenious idea, in which a chemical is sprayed from a crop-dusting aircraft over a packed football stadium)
6. Chemical Attack – Toxic Industrial Chemicals
7. Chemical Attack – Nerve Agent
8. Chemical Attack – Chlorine Tank Explosion
9. Natural Disaster – major earthquake
10. Natural disaster – Major Hurricane
11. Radiological Attack – Radiological Dispersal Devices
12. Explosives Attack – Bombing Using Improvised Explosive Devices
13. Biological Attack – Food Contamination
15. Biological Attack – Foreign Animal Disease (Foot and Mouth Disease)
16. Cyber Attack

The document adds that there were various other scenarios considered, such as “nuclear power plant incidents, industrial and transportation accidents, and frequently occurring natural disasters”.

Who is behind the incidents?

Coyly, it goes on: “Because the attacks portrayed in some scenarios could be caused by foreign terrorists; domestic radical groups; State-sponsored adversaries; or in some cases, disgruntled employees, the perpetrator has been named, the Universal Adversary (UA).” This apocalyptic name has given rise to some criticism, that “domestic radical groups and labor activists, which visibly constitute a threat to the established political order, are now conveniently lumped together with foreign Islamic terrorists, suggesting that the PATRIOT anti-terror laws together with the Big Brother law enforcement apparatus are eventually intended to be used against potential domestic “adversaries”. The original intention was simply to avoid making any sort of political statement about who the adversary might be, I suppose, but the phrase does have strong overtones of Biblical fundamentalism. Clearly there are many in the US, fruit-cakes apart, who see all this as over-reaction, demonisation of a small threat for political purposes. A witty article in the Oct 15 2007 Portland Mercury advises citizens that “there will undoubtedly be plenty of over-emotive community theater actors on hand, moaning about their fake radioactive burns… thats exactly what our local officials are expecting. Therefore its up to YOU to diverge from the script—even if you werent invited to participate—and give our high-caliber public servants the test they deserve.” For instance, dress up like Batman. Repopulate the Earth. “Walk around with a comically big syringe that has “DIRTY BOMB ANTIDOTE” printed on its side.”

As a cynic I would add that the money is in counter-terrorism. You might have an industrial incident due to carelessness or poor plant design (eg Flixborough, Piper Alpha, but if you want funding you rewrite it as a terrorist scenario and the DHS give you a grant. Also, you avoid raising embarrassing questions for the plant operator. You cant do this with hurricane or earthquake scenarios, which is why they are the poor relations. For instance, the well-known threat of a tsunami caused by a collapse of volcanic rock on La Palma doesnt get much attention.

How the scenarios are written.

The scenarios are structured as follows:
• Scenario Overview
– General Description
– Detailed Attack Scenario (or Detailed Scenario when a UA is not present)
• Planning Considerations
– Geographical Considerations/Description (eg the local area, economic geography, what would people be doing at the time)
– Timeline/Event Dynamics (ie how would the incidnet develop, timescales for the UA action and for such the effects to become known or felt
– Meteorological Conditions (where applicable)
– Assumptions (these include methods of calculating the impact, consequential impacts eg on infrastructure, public reactions,
– Mission Areas Activated (ie what aspects of the response are involved/ tested? how is the hazard mitigated? victims cared for and evacuated? investigation? remediation?)
• Implications
– Secondary Hazards/Events
– Fatalities/Injuries
– Property Damage
– Service Disruption
– Economic Impact
– Long-Term Health Issues

All are well researched. with annexes including maps of typical effects, calculated blast/ radiation/ dispersion zones, estimates of casualties, etc..

Content and Plausibility

Some are frankly over the top – eg scenario 6, Toxic Industrial chemicals. Its difficult to envisage anything other than local effects from a COMAH site explosion, so:
“In this scenario, terrorists from the Universal Adversary (UA) land in several helicopters at fixed facility petroleum refineries. They quickly launch rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs) and plant improvised explosive devices (IEDs) before re-boarding and departing, resulting in major fires. At the same time, multiple cargo containers at a nearby port explode aboard or near several cargo ships with resulting fires. Two of the ships contain flammable liquids or solids. The wind is headed in the north-northeast direction, and there is a large, heavy plume of smoke. The smoke is visible drifting east into heavily populated areas. Releases of cobalt, nickel, molybdenum, cadmium, mercury, vanadium, platinum, and other metals have occurred in the plumes. One of the burning ships in the port contains resins and coatings including isocyanates, nitriles, and epoxy resins. Some IEDs are set for the use of a remote trigger for delayed detonation.”

Scenario 8, however, an attack by the UA on a single chlorine storage facility, involves “17,500 fatalities, 10,000 severe injuries and 100,000 hospitalizations” from a single 60,000 gallon tank at 250 psi. (“Bulk storage of chlorine occurs in tanks as large as 120,000 gallons in the United States.”)

The cyber attack is a fascinating blueprint for a massive DOS attack on the whole nation, using a variety of techniques including well known viruses, which are then replaced by new strains. The attack is spread by automatic updating of software. Attacks are also made on DNS servers and on security mechanisms – eg spreading false PGP keys, and changing times on servers so that authentication credentials expire prematurely, and so on.

The “Worried Well”

An interesting concept: “In most incidents, citizens will seek medical treatment even though they may not be injured by the incident. For example, in the World Trade Center incident on September 11, 2001 (9/11), the uninjured who sought medical treatment was approximately fifteen times the number of people who presented for medical treatment due to smoke inhalation; and in the Tokyo subway attack it was five times the number of victims experiencing chemical poisoning. For planning purposes, most experts calculate ratios ranging from a ratio of five-to-one up to a ratio of ten-to-one.”

Are the scenarios used?

They certainly are. Ive just discovered a blog that sets out to list all Private Miltary Contractors and de facto U.S.”Government” “Drills”. It will certainly have a lot to write about: there seems to be one or more major drills taking place very day in the US.

(eg for the last week:

16 November:
Falcon Virgo: US military ex to intercept overflights of Washington area
Colorado mass vaccination drill for flu epidemic
New Jersey: dirty bomb response drill

15 November:
Golden Guardians: California: response to pneumonic plague released over rock concert.

14 November
Also called Golden Guardian: California: explosion involving hazardous materials on a train.
St Louis hospital disaster dill: major explosion
North Plains Mall: mass casualty exercise.

13 November:
Winnebago County: explosion at Kimberley Clark plant

11 November:
International: Bright Star coalition military exercises.

10 November:
Walton County: flu drill

9 November:
Rochester Minn: mass vaccination drill
Virginia: terrorist drill involving US Marines.

This blog appears to pursue some sort of conspiracy theory, but his list of exercises is well researched and backed up by hyperlinks.

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