The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) have announced the completion of Island Thunder, a table-top counterterrorism exercise in Hawaii. Island Thunder was the latest in NNSA’s Silent Thunder series, which gives federal, state and local officials and first responders critical, hands-on experience in prioritized alarm assessment and response, crisis management, threat assessment, emergency response, consequence management and post-contingency procedures to prepare them in the event of a terrorist incident involving radiological materials.
“At my request, the Government Accountability Office recently reported that radiological materials in U.S. hospitals are alarmingly vulnerable to theft. However, NNSA has successfully worked with partners in Hawaii to complete security enhancements on all high-priority radiological materials in the State,” said U.S. Senator for Hawaii, Daniel K. Akaka. “Hawaii is now safer, and I am pleased that federal and local officials are continuing training and drills, like these counterterrorism exercises, to ensure that responders are well prepared to handle radiological threats. NNSA’s successful progress in Hawaii is a great model for securing all high-risk sites nationwide.”
Exercises like Island Thunder involve fictitious scenarios such as those including terrorists infiltrating a research facility and attempting to seize control of high-activity radiological sources that, in principle, could be used in radiological dispersal devices (RDDs), commonly referred to as “dirty bombs.” The participating officials work cooperatively to assess and respond to fictional critical facility alarms and then manage the created crisis as if it were actually happening. The goal of these exercises is to provide hands-on crisis management experience, facilitate coordination between multiple agencies, and improve both alarm response and emergency response methods.
Silent Thunder exercises take place in select locations across the United States with facilities that house nuclear or high-activity radioactive materials. The series is jointly organized and funded by NNSA’s Global Thread Reduction Initiative (GTRI), NNSA’s Office of Counterterrorism Policy and Cooperation, and the FBI.
“NNSA remains committed to continuing exercises such as this, in order to help maintain the readiness of federal, state, local and private sector officials and facility operators. We welcome the opportunity to work with key organizations like those in Hawaii to ensure effective planning, communication and response coordination,” said Deputy Under Secretary for Counterterrorism and Counterproliferation Steven Aoki. “NNSA’s investments in nuclear security provide the unique technical knowledge and capabilities that help protect our country against terrorist attacks.”
In partnership with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and the Department of Homeland Security, NNSA’s GTRI installs voluntary security upgrades at civilian sites in the United States to reduce the potential for theft or misuse of radiological materials that could be used in a dirty bomb. These voluntary upgrades are in addition to security enhancements that have been required by the NRC and state governments since 2006.
“While radiological sources in Hawaii are now under strong security measures, it is also important to continue to refine our response protocols to ensure awareness and coordination amongst the various response entities that would be involved in a theft incident,” said Melvin Kaku, Director of the Department of Emergency Management for the City and County of Honolulu. “The NNSA tabletop exercise provides us with an important opportunity to test and enhance our response protocols.”
“This type of exercise is an important demonstration of Hawaii’s ability to cooperate along federal, state and county lines in response to a possible radiological security threat. I am confident that the citizens of the State of Hawaii are now safer as a result of our various agencies’ collaboration with NNSA on this important initiative,” said Lieutenant Governor Brian Schatz.
GTRI also provides specialized alarm response training to facility security and local law enforcement through the Alarm Response Training Course at the Y-12 National Security Complex.
Started in 1999, NNSA’s Office of Counterterrorism Policy and Cooperation’s WMD Counterterrorism Exercise Program took on an expanded role following the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001. Since the program began, nearly 8,000 international, federal, and local officials have participated in more than 95 different exercises in more than 20 States and the District of Columbia. To promote full participation by state and local officials, Silent Thunder exercises are unclassified and utilize open source information for scenario development.