1997 Congressional Hearings
Special Weapons
Nuclear, Chemical, Biological and Missile

Testimony of Lisa E. Gordon-Hagerty

Director, Office of Emergency Response

Acting Director, Office of Weapons Surety

Defense Programs

U.S. Department of Energy

before the Committee on National Security

Subcommittee on Military Research and Development

November 4, 1997


The possibility of an attack against the United States by an adversary who employs an improvised nuclear device, a radiological dispersal device, or a nuclear weapon stolen from another nation's stockpile is perhaps greater now than it has ever been. These Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) have great potential for causing widespread death and destruction. The possibility that a nuclear terrorist could detonate such a weapon without warning in a populated area presents a terrifying scenario which will challenge the emergency response capabilities of the nation. In order to minimize loss of life and suffering in such an event, local first responders must be provided with the knowledge and resources to recognize the hazards and to render aid and assistance without becoming victims themselves. These first responders are an important part of an integrated, national response combining an appropriate mix of infrastructure, technology, and operational capabilities. The Department of Energy (DOE) contributes significantly to this integrated response through its capabilities that have been established to respond to emergencies involving radioactive materials, accidents involving U.S. nuclear weapons, and incidents involving a terrorist's use of nuclear weapons or improvised nuclear devices. DOE's Office of Defense Programs, Office of Emergency Response, provides the program management and direction for the United States Government's technical and operational response to such incidents.


The Fiscal Year 1997 (FY97) Defense Authorization Act, Section 1413, calls for the Departments of Defense (DOD) and Energy to coordinate assistance to federal, State, and local authorities in responding to "threats involving nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons, or related materials or technologies, including assistance in identifying, neutralizing, dismantling and disposing of nuclear weapons and related materials and technologies". Further, Section 1415, directs the Secretary of Energy to develop, implement and coordinate with other federal, State and local agencies a "program for testing and improving the responses of federal, State and local agencies to emergencies involving nuclear and radiological weapons and related materials". DOD is directed to develop, implement and coordinate a parallel program dealing with biological and chemical weapons and related materials.

Considerable expertise exists in the first responder community in responding to radiological/hazardous materials emergencies. However, many communities do not have the resources or expertise to deal with the defining scenario for the nuclear WMD event. This defining scenario is the detonation of a terrorist nuclear device and the death, injuries, and destruction that will result. Among the complex issues involved in responding to this event is the danger presented to the first responders from the radiation and destruction caused by the explosion. The first responders must render aid and assistance without becoming victims themselves. This scenario will almost certainly overwhelm the capabilities of any municipality. To effectively respond to this event will require support and cooperation from many local, State, and federal resources. The assistance provided to the cities under the first responder training program represents a significant step toward filling this gap.

Through our national radiological emergency response program, DOE has been developing, testing, exercising, and coordinating emergency preparedness and response activities with our federal, State and local counterparts since the 1950's and have long-established plans, procedures and relationships in place. This program is comprised of seven national assets providing a full range of specialized capabilities including: predictive modeling; environmental characterization following a release; and radiation medical expertise in support of consequence management activities; and the capabilities to detect, locate, identify, render safe, or disable a terrorist nuclear device in support of crisis management operations.

Two of these national assets, the Radiological Assistance Program (RAP) and the Radiation Emergency Assistance Center/Training Site (REAC/TS) have been involved for many years in providing first responder training and assessing the emergency management and response capabilities of first responders at the State and local level. RAP and REAC/TS have been key in coordination and outreach activities with the State and local governments and form the basis for accomplishing the DOE tasks specified under the Defense Authorization Act of 1997.

RAP, an around the clock capability, provides initial response resources through trained personnel and equipment upon request by State, tribal, and local governments in responding to radiological accidents and incidents. The RAP, established in 1954, is implemented on a regional basis. This regional coordination provides a timely response capability and fosters a close working relationship between DOE radiological responders and responders from State, tribal, and local governments within the region. Radiological assistance personnel, referred to as RAP teams, are located at DOE sites and facilities in eight geographical regions within the U.S. Each region has a minimum of three highly trained and equipped RAP teams to ensure timely support to requests for assistance. RAP is often the first responder in assisting in the mitigation of immediate radiation hazards and risks to workers, the public, and the environment. As part of its underlying mission, RAP provides radiological first responder training as part of joint drill and exercise programs with the States and local governments.

In 1996, RAP responded to 24 actual emergencies and conducted 22 exercises, drills, and other outreach activities in support of State and local emergency responders. Currently, RAP is providing technical specialists to teach the nuclear response portion of the curriculum at the city training sessions in support of the Domestic Preparedness Program.

REAC/TS provides around the clock direct or consultative assistance with the human health effects of radiological hazards in local, national and international incidents. At the end of FY97, REAC/TS had formally trained 1,511 physicians, 1,176 nurses, and 92 Emergency Medical Technicians throughout the United States on a variety of radiation medical emergency topics. REAC/TS has been closely involved with the development of the medical first responder training curriculum being presented in the Domestic Preparedness Program and is providing radiation emergency medical response experts to teach the nuclear medical portion of the program at the city training sessions.

In implementing our responsibilities under the Defense Authorization Act of 1997, DOE is committed to supporting interagency cooperation and has been working directly with the DOD and interagency participants since the program's inception. In addition, DOE regularly attends interagency meetings to coordinate program development activities, provides technical review and assistance on nuclear matters, and provides experienced personnel throughout the interactions with the State and local agencies to ensure that complete and accurate information is presented.

DOE has also begun to interact with the first responder in areas outside the specific program efforts outlined in the Defense Authorization Act of 1997. An example of this is an outreach program involving local bomb squads in which we offer a very limited amount of training to a small number of explosive ordnance disposal units. This effort is being coordinated with outreach activities currently being conducted by the Nuclear Emergency Search Team and other national assets to ensure that the response protocols for an improvised nuclear device are understood at every level of responder.


The DOE Domestic Preparedness Program described herein is being accomplished within the fiscal constraints of the current DOE program direction. We have re-prioritized work planned for Fiscal Years 1997 and 1998 within the national radiological emergency response programs in order to participate in a significant way in the current interagency effort. The Department of Energy is fully committed to improving the capabilities of responders throughout the nation at all levels, from our one-of-a-kind national level teams to local volunteer firefighters and police officers and will continue to support the interagency efforts begun under the Defense Authorization Act of 1997.