Homeland Security


What is TOPOFF

TOPOFF is a national-level, multi-agency, multi-jurisdictional, "real- time", limited-notice WMD response exercise, designed to better prepare senior government officials to effectively respond to an actual terrorist attack involving WMD. In addition, TOPOFF involves law enforcement, emergency management first responders, and other non-governmental officials. Short of an actual attack, such exercises are the best possible way to train responders, gauge preparedness, and identify areas for improvement.

Who participates

TOPOFF is led by the Department of Justice, the federal agency designated to respond to domestic terrorist attacks, the Department of State, which has the lead for responding to international attacks, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Participants are officials at the federal, state, and local levels who would direct crisis management and consequence management response to a real WMD attack. TOPOFF was first conducted in May 2000 and involved thousands of federal, state, and local personnel, along with top U.S. officials including the Attorney General, Secretary of Health and Human Services, FBI Director, FEMA Director, and two state governors.TOPOFF was originally designed to improve the response skills of senior American officials. However, as terrorism has become an increasingly global threat requiring an integrated, global response, the Department of State has taken the lead in involving foreign governments in TOPOFF.

What issues are involved

Participants are compelled by the WMD attack scenario confronting them to produce an integrated, coordinated response which would deal with several issues:

  • Law Enforcement
  • Homeland Security
  • Infrastructure Protection (Communications, Power, Transportation, etc.)
  • Public Information
  • Command and Control
  • Crisis and Consequence Management
  • Medical/Public Health
  • Resource Management

What are the specific goals of TOPOFF and how are they achieved

TOPOFF’s goal, in a phrase, is unity of effort. More specifically, it is to support national strategy to combat terrorism by improving the capability of government officials and agencies, both within the U.S. and abroad, to provide an effective, coordinated, strategic response to all aspects of a WMD attack. Other key goals include:

  • Assess and strengthen the role of all organizations, including non-traditional partners, in crisis and consequence management;
  • Create broader operating frameworks of expert federal, state, and local crisis and consequence management systems;
  • Validate authorities, strategies, plans, policies, procedures, protocols, and synchronized capabilities; and
  • Build a sustainable, systematic, national exercise program in support of national domestic preparedness strategy and international response strategies.

TOPOFF achieves these goals by placing stress on existing response systems to demonstrate capabilities and identify areas for improvement. Following the exercise, an after-action report is conducted to identify successes, "lessons learned," and shortcomings to be addressed.

How does TOPOFF proceed? Where does it take place? How long does it last?

TOPOFF is constructed to emulate a real WMD attack by a real international terrorist organization. Exercise duration varies and is conducted in "real time." In order to make the exercise as real as possible, participants are given little forewarning of what scenarios they will face, such as type of WMD involved or specific location, date, and time of the attacks.

What's TOPOFF actually like

The first TOPOFF was held in May 2000 in Denver, Colorado and Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Denver participants faced a simulated chemical attack, while New Hampshire participants were confronted with a biological attack. A second national exercise, TOPOFF2, was held in May 2003. It was constructed around a systematic series of complex "building block" exercises, designed to produce a more integrated and effective WMD preparedness strategy. The TOPOFF 3 Exercise Program, the most comprehensive terrorism response exercise ever conducted in the United States,  is made up of a two-year cycle of seminars, planning events and exercises culminating in a Full-Scale Exercise that simulates a coordinated terrorist attack involving biological and chemical weapons. The Full-Scale Exercise took place April 4–8, 2005.

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Page last modified: 13-07-2011 12:49:50 ZULU