News Briefings

DoD News Briefing

Thursday, January 13, 2000 - 1:32 p.m.
Presenter: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD PA

Also participating: Mr. Charles Cragin, principal deputy assistant secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs


Finally, I'm joined here today by Charlie Cragin of Reserve Affairs, to bring you up to date on Secretary Cohen's program to establish a new capability in the Guard and Reserve elements -- that is, the capability to assist local and state law enforcement agencies in assessing and responding to attacks that may involve weapons of mass destruction, principally chemical and biological weapons.

As you know, 10 teams were set up previously. Mr. Cragin will announce an expansion of that program and be able to take your questions.

After that, I'll come back and answer questions on anything else but these teams, because Mr. Cragin will answer all your questions.


MR. CRAGIN: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.

As Mr. Bacon said, today Secretary Cohen is announcing the establishment and location of 17 additional weapons-of-mass- destruction civil support teams.

Now, you may recall that these teams, when they were originally fielded, one in each of the 10 FEMA regions, were identified as "rapid assessment and initial detection teams." We have renominated them as part of this expansion, because we feel this more adequately reflects their mission and their involvement as a supporting element to local first-responders and governors and adjutant generals of states.

The secretary announced today that we will begin the identification, employment and training of 17 additional WMD civil support teams, which will bring us to a total, throughout the United States, of 27 of these teams. The states that will be receiving these 17 teams will be Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Minnesota, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Virginia. The department will work with each of these states, their governors and their adjutant generals, to identify the specific communities within those states in which these teams will be placed.

These states were selected after a very careful and objective analysis, to optimize population and geographical coverage and at the same time, to minimize the overlap in the teams' areas of responsibility. The resulting distribution of the 17 teams, in concert with the 10 teams established in fiscal year '99, provides support to the population of the United States.

The WMD civil support teams will be able to deploy rapidly, assist local first-responders in determining the nature of an attack, provide medical and technical advice, and pave the way for the identification and arrival of follow-on state and federal military response assets.

Each WMD civil support team consists of 22 highly skilled full-time members of the Army National Guard or the Air National Guard. Beginning in fiscal year 2000, the personnel selected for these 17 additional teams will undergo 15 months of rigorous individual and unit training and then will be evaluated for operational certification.

Let me just say at the outset that this is the second phase of an initiative that Secretary Cohen began in 1998 because he was apprised by first-responders in many communities around the United States that one of the expertise elements that they did not have that they needed was the technical expertise to be able to identify and assess particular chemical or biological agents that may be the instrument of a terrorist attack.

As a result of that these teams were formed, and they are very, very unique in the federal-state relationship, because these are teams that are federally resourced, federally trained, with federal doctrine developed for them, but they are, in fact, under the command and control primarily of the governors of the states in which they are located, and under the operational command and control of the adjutant generals of those states, so that they can immediately respond to an incident as part of a state response, rather than have to go through the federal wickets of requesting federal assistance and working their way through the federal response plan, which obviously would not permit them to be able to respond immediately.

We think we have fashioned an element that will work collaboratively in support of local first-responders and state emergency management agencies that can bring to the United States in its totality a level of expertise that most jurisdictions in America would not be able to develop on their own.

And with that, let me stop and take your questions.


QAre there any of these new teams in places where old teams -- in states where old teams already exist?

MR. CRAGIN: No. As a matter of fact, what we did in this highly objective stationing plan was to ensure that we did not have any significant overlap between these teams.

Q (Off mike) -- the first 10 --

MR. CRAGIN: The first 10 states are Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, California, Massachusetts, Missouri, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas and Washington.

QIs California on the list?

MR. CRAGIN: I was about to say, if you were paying particularly strict attention you would have noticed that we announced California on the list. And we did that because this was not a stationing plan that was predicated upon state jurisdictional boundaries. This is a stationing plan that was predicated upon population. And since California is the tenth-largest state in the nation as far as total population, since it -- I take that back; it has 10 percent of the population of the nation. (Laughter.) I noticed a couple people back here, though, that were snoozing and didn't pick up on that gaffe. It also had an area in northern California that was not covered at all. So the team stationing was recommended for northern California.

QHave any of the RAID teams been pressed into service yet, even if not a real emergency?

MR. CRAGIN: No, they haven't. And one of the reasons that they have not, the first 10 teams are just now finishing all of their train-up and are in the process of receiving their highly sophisticated equipment. Each team has two large pieces of equipment, a mobile analytical laboratory that it deploys with, that is utilized for field analysis of chemical or biological agents, and they also have a uniform command suite that has the ability through multiplexing systems to provide interoperability of communications to the various and sundry responders who may be on scene.

Congress, when it authorized the establishment of these teams, specifically directed that before they could be deployed, they had to be certified as deployable by the secretary of Defense. What that means is that the members of the team must have completed their individual training, the team as a whole must have completed all of its collective training, and it must have received all of the equipment necessary to deploy. And we expect that the external evaluation of the first 10 teams will take place the latter part of January or February and that they will be certified by the secretary in March. After that point in time, they will be deployable assets of the governors in the states in which they're located.

We had a question, I think, down here.

QSir, it's a shared resource, though. For example, if there was an incident in Connecticut, the New York team could respond; right?

MR. CRAGIN: That is absolutely correct. Each of these states has obviously the stationing of the teams, but the states work very cooperatively for handling many incidents in the United States, either through the facility of an interstate mutual assistance compact or just generally on the basis of working cooperatively together. We have about 27 states, for example, that make up the major emergency assistance compact, but there are other states that don't participate in the compacts, that do in fact provide support across state lines. Alabama comes to mind, for example -- not a member of the compact, but when we were dealing with situations in Florida and other states, Alabama was one of the first to come to their assistance.

Yes, sir?

QThese teams, being small in size, I assume, will not be designed in any way to treat victims, but to identify -- mainly to identify --

MR. CRAGIN: Your assumption is correct. I mean, they are primarily there to provide initial advice on what the agent may be, to assist first responders in that detection assessment process, and then also to be the first military responders, so to speak, on the ground, so that if additional federal resources are called into the situation, they are already there as an advance party that can liaise with the Joint Task Force Civil Support, for example, and provide that on-the-ground assessment information to the other military officials.

Yes, sir?

QWell, what about providing information to the federal government? Is there are going to be a direct connection where you can get real-time information from your teams? Is that one purpose?

And -- and I forgot what else I wanted to ask.

MR. CRAGIN: Well, let me answer that while you're thinking about the second part of it. Absolutely they'll be providing information to the federal government. They'll be providing their information through the liaison with the Joint Task Force Civil Support headquartered in Norfolk, which is an entity of the United States Joint Forces Command, which is the federal government. They, in turn, liaise with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and we'll be providing that information as well. And they do have that communication capability to do reach-back, because one of the other things these teams have in their communications suite is the ability to reach back to expertise at medical laboratories and things of that nature, and bring that expertise right to the location.

QI see. And the other question I had was, will these teams be going out as scouts, sizing up the situation, so that your federal teams in Norfolk can read and size, you know -- and evaluate what the situation is?

MR. CRAGIN: Well, first off, while they are going to be providing information as a matter of liaison to Joint Task Force civil support folks, first and foremost, these teams are part of a state response system. And they will be activated through that state response system as one of a number of state responders. And so they will be providing the initial assessment to the incident commander, who could be the fire chief, the police chief on the scene, the folks that, you know, respond to every single incident in America, the 911 force of firemen and EMT and HAZMAT and police. So they are going to work cooperatively in support of those people, first and foremost. But then secondly, were this to become a larger event in which a governor determined that state and local resources had been exhausted and they had requested the president to issue a declaration and provide federal assistance, at that point this team would continue its support of the local officials but at the same time, provide liaising information and be essentially the people on the scene to assist if other federal resources were brought to bear, other federal military resources particularly.

QTo what extent will these teams leverage off of the U.S. Special Forces, Special Operation commands already established responsibility to be the Pentagon lead agents in WMD activities? And I am thinking of the Energy Department's NEST teams also. Will they go through some rigorous training with those operations? And can you talk a little bit about the training scenarios? They'd be handling everything from anthrax to the suitcase nuke that was featured in the movie "Peacemaker."

MR. CRAGIN: And sarin gas and things of that nature.

First off, they are not involved in training with Special Operations forces. They are involved in consequence management activities, not in crisis management activities.

As I am sure you are aware, the Department of Justice is the lead federal agency with respect to crisis management. The civil support teams are teams that link with the consequence managers in their jurisdictions and, as I say, would become involved with FEMA were it to become a federal situation.

I should also say that as part of their training, they have been involved with local responders. They have received the same types of training that local responders -- so that they can work hand in glove and provide support to local responders -- such as attendance at the National Fire Academy, things of that nature. They have also received training in the radiologic, chemical and biological aspects, protective gear, how you enter a hot zone, things of that nature.

This training has been, as I mentioned, rigorous and also both individual as well as collective -- learning how to work as a team. You have a medical assessment group, you have a logistic support group, you have a communications group. They all have to learn how to work as a team, and then what they will do is they will also exercise with other local and state and federal responders. In fact, Congress, in its authorization, wanted to ensure that they not only just exercised in the state that they were located, but that they exercised in other states within their area of responsibility, so they'll be doing that as part of their ongoing instruction.

These folks, while they are members of the Army National Guard and the Air National Guard, are full-time personnel. This is their job, to be a member of a civil support team, and they live it, they breathe it, they think it and they train it seven days a week, 52 weeks a year.

Yes, sir?

QCould you give us cost estimates on the 17 teams, and also what's been spent on the 10 teams? And one other thing, do you still plan on creating 54 teams around the country?

MR. CRAGIN: The Department of Defense has no plans to create 54 teams. The Department of Defense is going to implement the 27 teams that have been authorized by Congress. I can tell you that in fiscal year 1999, we expended a little over $60 million to train up and employ and equip these teams. We are budgeted for fiscal year '00, the year that we're now implementing the 17 additional teams, for about $75 million for the totality of the program. Fifty-eight million of that represents the investment for the 17 new civil support teams. There's some money that was appropriated by Congress that wasn't placed in the right account within the appropriation and we have to go back to Congress and -- what they technically say is a "reprogramming." They put it in personnel money, and we need it in procurement money so we can buy the equipment, but that's a minor thing and we'll go back to Congress and take care of it.

QOne other thing, too. GAO has complained about duplication of efforts. They mention that the Army has a technical escort unit, the Marines have their own rapid response unit, even the Coast Guard has one, so why create these new teams?

MR. CRAGIN: We don't think that they're duplicative, to start with. First off, all of those teams that you mentioned are federal response teams. They are not a state resource that a state responder can immediately access. Secondly, with respect to teams within the Department of Defense, such as Tech Escort, such as the Chemical/Biological Incident Response Force, the CBIRF, for the Marine Corps, they also have other missions as well. And so there really wasn't enough of this resource to be able to field throughout the United States that really could exercise regularly with first responders in their areas of operation.

I had an opportunity to visit with representatives of the General Accounting Office and have discussions about this, and I found that one of the areas of misunderstanding was that people thought these were federal response assets that were going to be part of the federal response, when they're not. They are part of a state response. They just happened, as I said, to be a very unique creation because they're federally resourced and federally trained, but it is a governor who gets to direct their deployment. And that's how we can get the immediacy of these teams into the communities.

Other questions? Yes, sir?

QHas this expansion of this program been accompanied by a change in your assessment of the threat?

MR. CRAGIN: No, I would not say that it's been accompanied by a change in the assessment of the threat. We within the Department of Defense always recognized that we were going to have to field more teams than the 10 that we fielded originally, but Secretary Cohen felt it was important that essentially we walked before we ran, because this was a new entity that we were creating out of whole cloth. We had to develop doctrine. We had to know if we were going to be able to recruit individuals with particular areas of expertise, such as nuclear medicine, things of that nature. And so we've learned as we went along. We also recognized that there were a number of population areas within the country that we had provided no coverage to.

QSir, I asked about training scenarios. Could you walk through some -- everything from sarin to mini-nukes, or what's the breadth of scenarios?

MR. CRAGIN: Well, essentially you've defined the breadth of the scenarios. I mean, they are looking at -- and have exercised and trained to be able to go in, enter a suspicious area, enter it safely, enter it with protective clothing, things of that nature; evaluate the perimeter before they even enter; and then go in, find the agent, make an assessment of the agent, perhaps remove the agent, depending on what it is to their analytical laboratory suite so that they can in fact do that field assessment on the location; learn how to deploy, work with, exercise with local responders; understand the incident command system and how responders operate under an incident command system, which is not a system that is generally utilized by military commanders. But it's a system that most first-responders in the United States operate under. So they have had to be trained in the incident command system, as well.