The North Jersey group has released a thoughtful article by Tom Troncone about Topoff 3, claimed to be "by any measure the most ambitious civilian terrorism response exercise ever conducted", which took place a year ago. This prompts me to ponder if the exercise was 'successful' - and how you measure success?
Mr Troncone argues that the exercise revealed serious gaps in communication, and that 'interviews with government officials and expert observers in recent weeks have drawn parallels to the much-maligned federal response to Hurricane Katrina.'
Whilst it's perfectly proper that the exercise identified problems, he argues that "Whether TopOff better prepared New Jersey to handle a true mass disaster is still open to debate. By most accounts, authorities at various levels are implementing practices learned during the exercise -- although the pace, for some, is disquieting."
Topoff3 was very well publicised. You can find details of it on
- The Department of Homeland Security website with an additional fact sheet.
- The New Jersey Hospital Association site
- The New Jersey Attorney General's site
- The Pascack Valley Hospital site
- The Dartmouth College Institute for Security Technology Studies site
- The Connecticut Amateur Radio Emergency Service site
as well as several specialist news sites such as IWS and the UPMC Center for Biosecurity.
Many of these were issued before or during the simulation, but there's also a formal 83 page report from the DHS. The main conclusions:
"Overall, objectives were addressed and met. However, there is room for improved coordination to enhance the effectiveness of the exercise series. For example, there were opportunities for the private sector and federal, state, and local governments to work together in responding to and recovering from simultaneous terrorist events, but the exercise highlighted - at all levels of government - a fundamental lack of understanding for the principles and protocols set forth in the NRP and NIMS. Further, although private sector and Department of Defense (DoD) engagement was for the most part successful, there are integration issues that require more discussion and analysis."
There were serious cost problems. (Thank goodness, the DHS fund is not bottomless...)
"we have highlighted three principal issues that might affect the overall effectiveness of the series. The first concerns the high investment and cost required of participating states and whether or how the federal government should provide funding assistance. States voiced concerns about having to use funding from their DHS grants as a prerequisite for selection and that their inkind expenses were not reimbursed. Further, federal departments and agencies said they must use funds from their base operating budgets to plan and participate, which may have resulted in limiting the resources they could commit."
The second issue highlighted was "DHS’ reliance on contractor expertise and support. Institutional knowledge of great value to SLGCP would be lost if the current contactor was no longer actively engaged."
Finally, lesson of previous Topoffs have not been learned. "TOPOFF 3 highlighted unresolved issues from previous exercises that continue to affect and inhibit the ability of organizations at all levels to effectively coordinate an integrated response. SLGCP (...the DHS "Office of State and Local Government Coordination and Preparedness"...) is responsible for the mitigation of issues related to exercise planning, development, management, and execution. However, it is recognized that actions required in correcting unresolved policy issues fall beyond the scope and authority of SLGCP."
It's one thing to run an exercise and produce a report. But the failing which keeps emerging is that the results are not followed up, and this is particularly a problem of multi-agency exercises.