From Response to Prevention

Sep 15, 2006

In the fall of 2001, Canada’s federal government took steps to enhance preparedness through new programs and funding aimed specifically at countering terrorism.  In its budget of December 12, 2001, the government committed $7.7 billion to bolster defences against terrorism which could have devastating affects on national security, the economy and collective psyche.  Of this funding, $170 million was given to the federal S&T community to address Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear (CBRN) hazards or weapons of mass destruction (WMD). The strategic intent of the S&T investment is to ensure as complete coverage as possible of all phases of emergency preparedness, response, mitigation and recovery, and removing any gaps in our nation’s response capability.

June 2006 - CFB Suffield, Counter Terrorism Technology Centre - Fire-fighters on CBRN exercise perform decontamination procedures in the decon tent. (Photo: Ted Ostrowski. DND)

Decision-making is always influenced by current events, and the choice of where to direct 2001 funding was no different. At the time, the collective sense of the S&T and response communities, the government and the population was that it was important to be able to respond to, and mitigate the affects of CBRN attacks. The initial and logical S&T approach was to apply existing expertise and knowledge into applications related to this “new” area of counter-terrorism. These were found mostly in the areas of response and mitigation.

S&T Approach to CBRN
The government then created the CBRN Research and Technology Initiative (CRTI) to use S&T to deal with such terrorist hazards. Launched in May 2002 as a collaborative horizontal initiative of 14 science or national security based departments and other agencies, its mandate was to “strengthen Canada’s preparedness for, prevention of and response to a CBRN terrorist attack through science and technology.” CRTI was based on four fundamental and unique premises, it was to be: 1) based on scientific risk assessment, 2) led by federal laboratories, 3) organized in laboratory clusters, and 4) subject to competitive project funding.  

Scientific Risk Assessment
The initiative was based on a consolidated risk assessment, where scientific and intelligence communities collaborated on the assessment of threat scenarios, technical feasibility, potential health, economic and psychosocial impacts, and threat. Through this process, the community determined the areas where S&T could make the greatest contributions. Nine areas were identified as categories for S&T investment:

  • Laboratory cluster management and operations;
  • Collective command, control, communications, coordination and information (C4I) capa­bil­ities for CBRN planning and response;
  • Equipping and training First Responders;
  • Prevention, surveillance and alert capabilities;
  • Immediate reaction and near-term consequence management capabilities;
  • Longer-Term consequence mgmt capabilities;
  • Criminal investigation capabilities;
  • S&T dimensions of risk assessment; and
  • Public confidence and psycho-social factors.

Led by Federal Laboratories
The country’s CBRN expertise traditionally resided in federal government laboratories. But until 2001, most labs did not have mandates to deal with terrorist use of their respective hazards. The CRTI community recognized that the best way to ramp up this expertise would be to apply the existing knowledge to new threat areas. This was a necessary shift in S&T federal government leadership, which previously focused primarily on policy, with the bulk of the research contracted to established industrial and academic sectors. In the new model, federal government laboratories would actively engage in the S&T developments.

Laboratory Clusters
Laboratory clusters were created as hybrid “communities of practice” to bring federal government experts together to create new domains of expertise in CBRN counter-­terrorism S&T. Initially grouped into the hazard areas of Chemical, Biological, and Radiological/Nuclear, a fourth Cluster was added in 2005 – the Forensics Cluster. As communities, the individual and “pan” clusters were tasked with determining how they could increase Canada’s S&T preparedness and support to the operational and policy communities. They were assigned the additional collective responsibility of selecting technologies to upgrade the response level of federal laboratories.

Competitive Project Funding
Of the original budget for the CRTI, $160 million was designated for project funding. Projects were selected through a com­peti­tive process on the basis of their relevance, investment criteria, innovativeness and the required expertise on the project team.

 There were four types of ­projects: Research & Tech­nology Development (RD); Tech­nology Acceler­ation (TA); Technology Dem­onstra­tion (TD); and Technology Acqui­sition (AT).

RD projects focused on filling S&T gaps and creating new knowledge; they required at least two federal government partners to ensure cross-fertilization of ideas. TA projects injected funding into technology that was close to market readiness, to get it into operational usage; these required at least one federal and an industrial partner. TD projects were similar to TA projects, except that they would leave behind their technology for an operational partner (such as an airport authority, or police). AT projects were selected by the Laboratory Clusters and were intended to combat laboratory rust-out.

The Emergency Response Spectrum
The challenge for developing a comprehensive S&T strategy is to identify and link hazards, targets and key processes to enable prevention, preparedness, and response. This Cycle shows the cyclical nature of any emergency, whether an accident, a natural disaster or an act of terrorism.

Adopting this PSEPC model allows for a more commonly coordinated approach where many elements of emergency management can be identified and applied for best mutual effect. Assuming the starting point is in “Mitigation and Response,” one can assign response requirements, indicated by arrows, to each phase of the response cycle.

The need to assess and reduce vulnerabilities and develop policies, procedures, standards and training for responders is part of readiness measures. As the cycle moves from readiness to response, emphasis moves to event detection, ­characteriza­tion, and consequence management. When events originate from a terrorist or criminal act, forensics and criminal investigation requirements increase.

The cyclical process fosters a learning approach where lessons are incorporated into future planning, miti­gation actions, and response procedures. While S&T itself contributes to each of these elements, an “R&D program” would be found principally in the Mitigation quadrant of the Public Security Framework cycle to reduce vulner­a­bility and enable response throughout the cycle.

3 to 5 Point Continuum
As in the PSEPC model, above, the traditional response spectrum is usually described as a three to five point continuum. Typical components are: prevention, preparedness, response, recovery and mitigation. PSEPC has defined the ­following phases for emergency management planning:

  • Prevention / Mitigation
  • Preparedness
  • Response
  • Recovery

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s National Incident Management System (NIMS) follows a similar pattern.

This model is very useful in emergency management planning, and illustrates how the components are interactive and interdependent within the cycle. It does not, however, suffice when analyzing the role that S&T has in mitigating or eliminating the impact of a terrorist event in each of the potential stages. An ­alternate view to this traditional circle, the Event Horizon, indicates opportunities for S&T to intervene.

The –3 TO +3 Event Horizon
When looking at the course of a potential terrorist event, there is a continuum in time during which proactive or reactive response may be required. Mitigation, preparation, and prevention can play roles in every stage of this model. What makes it different is the focus on people skills and contributions.

l–3 Community Knowledge
Preparation at this stage consists of activities that gather all available knowledge and experience to anticipate and understand the threat, its components and mechanisms for prevention or mitigation. It involves education and participation of the wider community, such as in community policing and public health and well-being. Examples of S&T which might contribute at this stage could include: all-risk assessments, including CBRN weapons, or human factors research to determine terrorist motivating factors.

l–2 Enforcement and Inspection
The next phase is proactive. It involves taking steps to stop an event from occurring and to protect either life or infrastructure from being effected from a future incident. Examples of S&T in this area could involve: vaccine development, detection of agents before they have been deployed, early identification of threats during routine food supply inspections.

This phase also requires a more focused awareness of WMD threats by government employees whose daily tasks include enforcement, inspection, and investigation. This type of awareness program could also be directed towards health professionals.

Examples of this type of program would be intern/recruit/cadet/entry level training for emergency responders in all professions.

l–1 Focused Intelligence
This stage includes applying skills or activities just prior to a planned terrorist event which could prevent or reduce the impact of the attack. Activities require an alert mechanism and the specialized knowledge to base appropriate decision-making and actions. Surveillance and detection S&T would be used to identify the presence of weapons before they are launched or able to reach the intended ­targets. The well directed use of S&T can also assist in detecting CBRNE (Chemical, Biological, Radiolo­gical, Nuclear and Explosives) materials in the possession of potential terrorists, where the materials have not yet been converted to weapon form.

l0 Incident
“Ground Zero” signifies the terrorist event as it is occurring. This could involve the first transmission of a bio-terrorist incident, the explosion of a radiological dispersal device (dirty bomb), or the release of a chemical agent in an enclosed space. S&T at this stage would address very precise requirements such as shutting down ventilation systems. In order to be of use at this stage, systems must be fully automated to be triggered at sub-second speeds.

l+1 On Scene Response
Immediately after a terrorist attack, the first responders will most likely be non-specialized personnel without training in CBRN response. They would probably consist of regular fire, police and ambulance staff. They could also be veterinarians, food inspectors, or front-line hospital staff. It might not suspect or know how to identify the weapons or effects without receiving a pre-warning. Mitigating the effects in this phase might involve S&T decision support tools or animal health tools. Detection tools implemented at this stage, such as radiation dose rate monitoring, would have to be low cost to allow for broad government distribution (all levels) and integrated into equipment already being used by the functional groups.

l+2 Specialized Response and Recovery
By +2 on the Horizon, it will have become obvious that the situation is of a CBRN nature and requires specialized assistance. Specialized responders will be called in, initially at the local level and then at provincial and federal levels. Very specialized equipment and therapies will be required to respond to unfolding events. In this stage, recovery operations are initiated to protect and secure lives and infrastructure. S&T could contribute by developing specialized protective personal equipment or prophylaxis for CBRN agents. The collection of forensic evidence could start here, as some types of evidence will be time-dependent. Examples of useful S&T would be multi-hazard evidence ­col­lec­tion containers with scalable sizing.

l+3 Recovery and Remediation
In the final stage, recovery continues but shifts to remediation which is to return the subject of the attack to pre-attack status, or as near as possible. S&T in this area would focus on decontamination and restoration of facilities or the mitigation of economic effects.

CRTI Projects Compared to the Event Horizon
The CRTI projects in the RD, TA, and TD categories were assessed according to the –3 to +3 event horizon. The analysis clearly showed that most projects focused on the latter portion of the event horizon, particularly in the Specialized Response and Recovery phase (+2). The Recovery and Remediation phase (+3), and the On-Scene Response phase(+1) followed respectively. The Event phase received no concentration of projects at all, being very difficult to address. The three pre-event phases received less attention than the post-event phases even though it was shown that some S&T projects prepared for a later phase could also contribute to the Preparation phase (–3).

Results showed that most efforts were in specialized response and recovery, which provides people in those groups with much clearer and more precise targets for investment than were known in 2001.

The majority of investment has been in response to gaps which affect after-the-fact capability and preparedness. It is now time to examine and adjust the focus of the S&T community to support more directly the efforts that will reduce the risk of a WMD terrorist incident occurring. These areas of vulnerability must be exploited by intelligence agents and investigators to foil the plans and arrest and convict the perpetrators.

S&T can play a role in the detection of attempts by potential terrorists to acquire skills. The S&T community can make significant and meaningful contributions by supporting and leading projects targeted towards the detection of WMD materials. S&T can also impact risk ­reductions by contributing to a public and government awareness campaign.

Sheldon Dickie a is Forensic Portfolio Manager with the CRTI Secretariat. He is on secondment from the RCMP.

Cam Boulet is a Chief Scientist with DRDC, based in Ottawa.

Susan McIntyre is a Knowledge Manager at the CRTI Secretariat.

Contributions from: S. Friesen, A. Goudreau, T. Sykes, N. Yanofsky, H. Spencer and Gen(ret’d) Clive Addy.
© FrontLine Security 2006