Radiological Counterterrorism Exercise Held At Baylor College of Medicine

Press Release
Sep 3, 2009

HOUSTON, TX – The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) held a table-top counterterrorism exercise today at Baylor College of Medicine (BCM) in Houston, Texas.  Federal, state and local officials examined security alarm response and crisis and consequence management capabilities in the event of a terrorist incident involving the kind of medical radiological materials that Baylor regularly uses.

"These exercises illustrate how our investment in nuclear security has provided the technical knowledge and ability to protect our country against terrorist attacks," said Deputy Under Secretary of Energy for Counterterrorism Steven Aoki. "Institutions like Baylor College of Medicine understand that along with the benefits of using radiological materials comes the responsibility to protect this material.  Our Silent Thunder exercises are critical to improving cooperation among federal, state and local officials.  We welcome the opportunity to work with organizations like Baylor College to improve planning, communication and response coordination."

 "This coordinated effort led by the National Nuclear Security Administration is a great example of how collaboration makes us stronger. Baylor College of Medicine was pleased to host this roundtable exercise, which highlights the cooperation needed by organizations - both public and private -- in the event of a serious threat," said Paul Muraca, director of environmental safety at Baylor College of Medicine.  "The exercise today was a great opportunity to practice the concept of a unified response and increase our response partners' level of preparedness."   

Known as Space City Thunder, today's exercise is one of many events routinely held at NNSA, U.S. Department of Energy, Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), Agreement State and other government and civilian sites throughout the country to help evaluate security and emergency response.  For this exercise, NNSA and FBI officials engaged with city and state officials who would be first responders in a national security event.  Radiation safety officers and emergency preparedness personnel from around the Texas Medical Center and the state of Texas also were in attendance.

The exercise was the capstone of NNSA's Global Threat Reduction Initiative (GTRI) project to provide voluntary security enhancements to the nation's civilian radiological sites.  In partnership with the NRC and the Department of Homeland Security, NNSA installs these 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 required by the NRC and state governments since 2006.    

As part of the GTRI program, NNSA's Y-12 National Security Complex provided response training to Baylor College of Medicine's Office of Security, Office of Environmental Safety, and the Houston Police.  Pacific Northwest National Laboratory worked with BCM to install and implement the voluntary security enhancements.

Space City Thunder is the 78th in the series of NNSA's Office of Counterterrorism and the FBI's Weapons of Mass Destruction Directorate's Silent Thunder exercise program.  The exercise program exposes senior managers to national counterterrorism and weapons of mass destruction policies and then walks them through a challenging scenario with all crisis responders present.

The Silent Thunder scenarios typically feature both a "crisis management" phase to emphasize primarily law enforcement actions to detect, deter, and prevent a terrorist WMD incident from occurring as well as a "consequence management" phase that emphasizes local, state, and federal emergency managers and first responders efforts to respond to, mitigate and recover from the effects of a terrorist WMD incident.   The program is designed to build teamwork and an in-depth understanding of specific responsibilities in a terrorist-WMD event.

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Established by Congress in 2000, NNSA is a semi-autonomous agency within the U.S. Department of Energy responsible for enhancing national security through the military application of nuclear science in the nation's national security enterprise. NNSA maintains and enhances the safety, security, reliability, and performance of the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile without nuclear testing; reduces the global danger from weapons of mass destruction; provides the U.S. Navy with safe and effective nuclear propulsion; and responds to nuclear and radiological emergencies in the U.S. and abroad. Visit www.nnsa.energy.gov for more information.

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