EIIP Virtual Forum Presentation – January 22, 2003

Managing the Consequences of "Dirty Bombs"
Los Angeles County Terrorism Exercise

Ian Whyte
Program Manager / Exercise Design Team Leader
Los Angeles County Office of Emergency Management

Amy Sebring
Moderator, EIIP Technical Projects Coordinator

The following version of the transcript has been edited for easier reading and comprehension. A raw, unedited transcript is available upon request to [email protected]

[Welcome / Introduction]

Amy Sebring: Welcome to the EIIP Virtual Forum! Our topic today is the November 2002 multi-jurisdictional exercise in the Los Angeles County Operational Area, "Operation Critical Response," with a scenario involving multiple, radiological dispersion devices, or "dirty bombs."

We are pleased to introduce Ian Whyte, Program Manager, and exercise design team leader for the Los Angeles County Office of Emergency Management. Ian is a native southern Californian who has been involved in emergency management for nearly ten years. His current responsibilities include coordinating the participation of the many agencies involved in the County’s annual exercise. Welcome, Ian.


Ian Whyte: Thanks, Amy, and hello, everyone. I hope you are doing well today. I have been asked to share some experiences from our recent countywide exercise that focused on terrorism and Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) involving radiological dispersion devices.

When one thinks of Los Angeles County, one often thinks of disasters. During the 1990s alone, Los Angeles County dealt with floods, fires, earthquakes, high winds, heavy rains, and even a riot. Luckily, the new millennium has been kind (save 9/11 of course), but we must continue to prepare for the unthinkable just the same.

One of the essential elements of preparation is exercises. All the planning and training in the world is worthless unless there is some way to evaluate it in a controlled environment. The exercise is part of the training process; it presents important information in a kinesthetic way, which should compliment the visual and auditory modes associated with other types training.

Why did we run a terrorism/WMD exercise in Los Angeles County? Well, because we have to. California State law and Los Angeles County Code require that the Los Angeles County Operational Area conduct at least one countywide emergency exercise per year. This insures that County emergency management personnel and systems are operational and ready to respond to a widespread disaster if needed. The annual exercise also allows the County to assess its operational readiness and make recommendations for corrective action.

Since September 11, 2001 the focus of the emergency management community has been on terrorism. None of us will forget the terrible images from that day and how it changed our lives forever. Terrorism has been the topic of the last two exercises in Los Angeles County. We used a bio-terrorism scenario in 2001 and a radiological dispersion device scenario in 2002. Both of these exercises were great learning opportunities for the County and have definitely helped us prepare for these possible attacks.

Today I will focus on the 2002 radiological exercise entitled "Operation Critical Response." This exercise was held on November 14, 2002 and included participation by many entities in the LA County Operational Area.

In the State of California we use the Standardized Emergency Management System (SEMS). Under SEMS, all government agencies that respond to a disaster are strongly encouraged to use SEMS (a jurisdiction would not be eligible for state controlled funds if they didn't use SEMS). Thus, all Emergency Operations Centers (EOCs) use the same organizational structure and all emergency agencies use similar language. SEMS closely follows the Incident Command System (ICS).

[Slide 1]

Los Angeles County is unique in that it offers emergency managers many interesting challenges. Under SEMS all counties are viewed as "Operational Areas," this means that a County consists of not only County government, but also incorporated cities, special districts, unincorporated areas, etc.

LA County has a population of nearly 10 million people, 88 incorporated cities (including the City of Los Angeles with approximately 4 million people alone), over 1 million people in unincorporated areas, and 137 special district (i.e. school, water, etc.). Not to mention some of the busiest sea and airports in the world. The challenge is to design an exercise that allows most of these entities to participate.

The following three slides illustrates the exercise scenario.

[Slide 2]

[Slide 3]

[Slide 4]

Six cities within Los Angeles County had representatives on the Exercise Design Team. This team met for almost nine months prior to the exercise and included representation from key LA County departments, LA County Radiation Management, the FBI, State of California Office of Emergency Services, the Civil Air Patrol, the California Highway Patrol, the American Red Cross, Disaster Management Areas, as well as others.

This team met at least once a month. In fact, we probably learned more during the design process that we did in the actual exercise. We were fortunate enough to have the local NBC-TV affiliate provide us with a 20-minute mock news video that was used to kick off the exercise.

During the exercise, the six participating cities and many County Departments entered simulated incidents into the County's Emergency Management Information System (EMIS) which drove the exercise. Over half of the other cities in the County also entered information on EMIS and participated in the exercise. Three of the six participating cities ran full-scale exercises in coordination with the County exercise. And the State's Southern Region EOC also activated during the exercise.

So we were able to play at various levels of government. This exercise provided us with a great opportunity to review EOC systems and assess training needs. The County's Emergency Management Council, which is chaired by the County's Chief Administrative Officer and Sheriff, was involved in the exercise. This exercise led to serious policy discussions on terrorism planning and the County will definitely be better prepared for it.

First, some of the things that "went right":

* The KNBC video and Fire Dispatches really helped set the tone for the exercise in the County EOC, made it realistic.

* The exercise also allowed cities to exercise their various procedures and activate their EOCs.

* It was a realistic test of EMIS; over 60 cities and most county departments logged on at one time.

And, as I mentioned earlier, we experienced strong cooperation between multiple agencies in the planning process.

Some of the areas that we found that could use further attention in the future are:

* Training - on EMIS, Emergency Management concepts, SEMS, RIMS, etc.

* Commitment - all entities in the Operational Area need to have buy-in from the top (cities, county departments, etc.).

* Development and/or review of local and Operational Area Terrorism plans.

* Continued progress toward 'EMIS Future'. EMIS was slow at times. Many recommendations have already been designed into EMIS Future.

* EMIS/RIMS integration. State OES needs RIMS updates/sit-reps in a timely manner.

Some specific issues related to radiological issues were raised as well in the exercise. For example:

* It was important to view a "dirty bomb" as an "area denial weapon", rather than a "mass casualty weapon".

* How do hospitals treat not only potentially radioactive patients, but the many "worried well"?

* How does the Coroner work with contaminated decedents? What sort of special equipment do they need?

* Continuity of government. How does government continue to provide services if they are directly threatened or are in contaminated areas? Evacuation of public buildings?

* How do jurisdictions control the spread of radioactivity on contaminated vehicles and people?

One important factor we learned was how radiation management works in Los Angeles County. The County has a strong radiation management section in the County's Department of Health Services, which works directly with the Radiation Branch of the State Health Department.

The National Guard's 9th Civil Support Team is also available to the County. County Radiation Management also has strong ties to the private sector. We were able to build a great working relationship with County Radiation Management during the exercise design process.

That concludes my presentation, and I will be happy to answer questions. I will turn it back over to our Moderator.

Amy Sebring: Thank you very much, Ian.

[Audience Questions & Answers]


Ed Pombier: How did you handle individuals showing up at hospitals that were merely contaminated but not otherwise injured?

Ian Whyte: Some of the cities utilized their local fire departments as a triage center in front of the Emergency Room. Local Police Departments also assisted.


Steve Davis: Could you discuss the EMIS Future project some?

Ian Whyte: I will do my best; I am not the technical expert. EMIS future will address user-friendly issues. We have a Users group that meets regularly to give input.


William Ulicny: How well did the local governments (cities) perform in technical areas related to rad? Did they have the proper training and equipment to perform surveys? How was this evaluated?

Ian Whyte: The local cities did their own evaluations. LA County Fire did respond to one city, as a contract city. The initial findings show that most of the cities were able to treat this as a HazMat incident, but they did request specialized resources from both the County and the State.


Quentin Frazier: Your slides show two events occurring in the City of Long Beach. How were schools (K-12) and Higher Ed (Cal State Long Beach) concerns addressed in your drill? Did schools participate? These are large in-place operations with thousands of people during the day.

Ian Whyte: Schools did participate in Torrance. They were able to have one school play the exercise live while other schools in the district used the exercise as an opportunity to run tabletop exercises on emergency shelter-in-place issues. Long Beach had to alter their participation late in the process. They had to run a tabletop instead but they still simulated all issues from their EOC.


Sunnie Baldwin: What support and response functions did the American Red Cross provide in your exercise?

Ian Whyte: We have a great relationship here with the ARC. They sat on the design team, sent reps to the County EOC, State REOC, and were present at most of the field sites. They were also present in many city EOCs as well.


Susan McElrath: How did your first responders recognize there was radiation involved in the first place, and how long did it take for outside agencies to become involved?

Ian Whyte: That was a tricky point for us in the design process. We realized actual detection of a radioactive material could take a while and that would go beyond the scope of the exercise so we built in an artificiality of earlier threats that mentioned radioactivity. This allowed first in units to assume there was radiation. Also, after the first incident it was apparent that all incidents could be radioactive in nature. Some cities have enacted protocols to look for radioactive materials at any explosion.


Art Botterell: Ian, for this exercise how did the County approach the coordination of public warning and emergency public information among all the agencies and expert sources? Any learning points?

Ian Whyte: We utilized a new Dialogic system for mass notification for EOC staff. We also tested the County PIO staff based out of the County EOC, and each city that hosted an event used their PIOs as well.


John Smith: What was the level of federal participation and was there any housing impact?

Ian Whyte: The FBI sat on our exercise design team, although we did not have them represented in the County EOC. In the future we will make sure they are here in our EOC. However, we did have the State REOC activated and under SEMS, the State is the primary link to the federal government, so our goal was to maintain a strong link to the State, thus keeping in touch with the Feds.


Jeff Phillips: Will you state the exercise objectives that your jurisdiction used? Were you able to test the FRP?

Ian Whyte: First, no we did not test the FRP since under SEMS that is not the role of an Operational Area (County).

Our objectives focused on assessing the use of technology in our EOC (GIS, EMIS, etc.), and integration of our Sheriff Department's Terrorism Early Warning Group into EOC operations. We also looked at interaction between the Operational Area, the State, and local jurisdictions. This was a good learning opportunity for us and our County policy makers are giving us a lot of support.


William Lorenzen: At the hospitals, what level of PPE is being employed for radiologicals?

Ian Whyte: I will answer this with the understanding that I am not a health professional. They used the HazMat protocols (i.e. barrier protection, SBA if available, etc.). However, our radiological experts advised us that most patients could be decontaminated using gross decon methods (i.e. washing, etc.)


Ray Pena: Why was it important to view bomb as area denial weapon rather than as a mass casualty weapon (why not both)? Will an After Action report be available for review?

Ian Whyte: Because the source of radioactive material may not be strong enough to cause immediate mass injury, most local public safety protocols call for stabilizing an area immediately, then testing for the actual levels of radiation. Most areas can be closed down fairly quickly after this type of incident.


Ron Gloshen: Did you utilize plume dispersion modeling software as a decision-making tool in the exercise? If so, what model was used and was it part of your GIS?

Ian Whyte: The city of Carson worked with the National Guard for plume modeling. They used that information in their EOC. We used the Civil Air Patrol in the County EOC to provide on site visuals. That's about all I can give here about that subject.


Sunnie Baldwin: I am an ARC local planner for exercises. For general guidance for our future local exercise planning, what functions did ARC perform at field sites?

Ian Whyte: The provided canteen and shelter services mostly, and they also provided mental health services.


Linda Underwood: Is there any way CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) members can participate in your next exercise?

Ian Whyte: We definitely look to include all groups in the Operational Area. CERTs in LA County work with individual cities, so we ask that local cities coordinate that aspect of the exercises.


Terry Liaboe: What were the casualty and injury estimates for this scenario?

Ian Whyte: We had about 400 injuries, and approximately 200 fatalities. We did have many evacuations though.


Bill Lang: Please describe any coordination with the private sector businesses.

Ian Whyte: We did have a private entity in the County EOC that was testing software to coordinate local business status. Also, a member from the Business and Industry Council for Emergency Planning and Preparedness (BICEPP) was on the design team.


Chris Effgen: Given your experience are you more or less concerned about terrorist use of NBC's? And why, if you can explain?

Ian Whyte: To be quite honest, I have about the same amount of concern as I did before the exercise. We know it is a possibility, but we have to aware of ANY possibility. After all, look at 9/11. We never thought commercial airliners could be used as weapons. So, yes, I think it is a risk, but it is one of many.


Jeff Phillips: How did you go about selecting one TV station to help with the video? Did this cause any problem with the other stations?

Ian Whyte: We worked with our Public Information Director in the EOC, and he has a good working relationship with KNBC. I believe they were the first station he called and they were extremely helpful. This really strengthened our relationship with the media.


Amy Sebring: That's all we have time for today. Thank you very much, Ian, for a fine job. As usual, we will have a transcript posted late this afternoon. Some business to take care of --- if you are not currently on our mailing list and would like to get program announcements, please see the Subscribe link on our home page.

Also, we would like to welcome some new EIIP partners:

SYTEX, Inc. -- http://www.sytexinc.com/

Yale New Haven Health System, Office of Emergency Preparedness -- http://www.ynhhs.org/ and

Enterprise Solutions, Inc. -- http://enterprisesolutionsinc.com/

If your agency would like to become an EIIP partner, please see the Partnership link.

Thanks to everyone for participating today. Our session is adjourned but before you go, please help me show our appreciation to our speaker.