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Homeland Security


Top Officials 3 (TOPOFF 3) was the most comprehensive terrorism response exercise ever conducted in the United States. Sponsored by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Office of State and Local Government Coordination and Preparedness, TOPOFF 3 was the third exercise in the TOPOFF Exercise Series, a congressionally mandated exercise program. The exercise was designed to strengthen the nation's capacity to prevent, protect against, respond to, and recover from terrorist attacks involving weapons of mass destruction. Joining the Department of Homeland Security and other federal agencies in that important effort are the states of Connecticut and New Jersey, as well as two international partners, the United Kingdom and Canada. These countries conducted simultaneous, related exercises.

The TOPOFF 3 Full-Scale Exercise (T3 FSE), which took place from April 4-8, 2005, is the culmination of a two-year cycle of seminars, planning events, and exercises. The exercise involved more than 10,000 participants representing more than 200 federal, state, local, tribal, private sector, and international agencies and organizations, as well as volunteer groups.

In the United States, participants responded to attacks in Connecticut and New Jersey. Simulated terrorist incidents originated in New London, Connecticut (chemical incident) and Union and Middlesex Counties in New Jersey (biological incident). Real weapons were not used, yet the response was mounted as if they had been. Numerous federal departments and agencies actively participated, providing a first opportunity to validate the recently released National Response Plan, and to exercise protocols of the National Incident Management System. As the full international dimensions of the simulated crisis were revealed, related exercises took place in the United Kingdom (ATLANTIC BLUE) and Canada (TRIPLE PLAY). Planners from all three countries have collaborated in the exercise design to achieve shared objectives.

To meet these shared objectives, the T3 FSE focused on four critical areas:

  • Incident management: To test the full range of existing procedures for domestic incident management of a terrorist event and improve, through practice, top officials' capabilities in affected countries to respond in partnership.
  • Intelligence/investigation: To test the handling and flow of operational and time-critical intelligence.
  • Public information: To practice strategic coordination of media relations and public information issues in response to linked terrorist incidents.
  • Evaluation: To identify lessons learned and promote best practices.
  • Exercises such as TOPOFF are an important component of national preparedness, helping to build an integrated federal, state, local, tribal, and private sector capability to prevent terrorist attacks on the homeland, and rapidly and effectively respond to and recover from any terrorist attack or major disaster that does occur.

    The Scenario
    T3 FSE begins as terrorists, planning attacks in the New York and Boston metropolitan areas, suspect their plans are compromised. They react by accelerating their original schedule, deploying a vehicle-based biological agent dispersal device in New Jersey. Seriously ill patients begin to overwhelm local hospitals. As the scenario unfolds, every county in New Jersey will need a Point of Dispensing (POD) for antibiotics. Meanwhile, the chemical weapon attack originally planned for Boston is also accelerated and executed in New London, Connecticut, augmented with a vehicle-based improvised explosive device.

    Issues to be addressed include public health and safety, contamination, criminal investigation, and patient care. As the events continue, federal agencies implement the National Response Plan, and international aspects of play emerge.

    The TOPOFF 3 Full-Scale Exercise extends the learning derived from earlier TOPOFF exercises and 9-11 in several ways:

  • Increases international and private sector participation in prevention and investigation.
  • Emphasizes terrorism prevention - an opportunity to piece together an intelligence puzzle and "capture" the enemy before the attack occurs.
  • Emphasizes risk communication and public information - participants will explore approaches to public communications in times of high public anxiety and confusion.
  • Focuses on long-term recovery and remediation issues.

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    Page last modified: 13-07-2011 12:49:52 ZULU