Last week’s summit in Washington focused on the threat of nuclear terrorism. In fact, we have little new evidence regarding Al Qaeda’s efforts to acquire a nuclear device than what was found in some caves in Afghanistan some nine years ago. Nevertheless, as the Christmas bombing attempt shows, terrorists are continuing to look for ways to deliver bombs to the United States or place them on airplanes. It does not require a true nuclear weapon to cause tremendous damage and loss of life. A bomb on a jumbo jet could kill hundreds. A chemical or radiological device in a major urban center could both cause a major loss of life but also billions of dollars in damages and clean up costs. The consequences of a major biological attack could easily exceed those from September 11.
The United States has devoted enormous resources to uncovering terrorist plots and to detecting bomb materials entering this country. The Department of Homeland Security has deployed sensors to detect the presence of radioactive materials at this country’s ports of entry. A limited number of chemical and biological sensors have been deployed at strategic sites and better ones are under development.
So, we find a terrorist bomb (high explosive, chemical, radiological or biological) at Logan Airport, Grand Central Station, Long Beach Harbor, the Brownsville crossing or on Capitol Hill, then what? The first thing is run like Hell. Authorities would attempt to evacuate the area. Then they would deal with the bomb. But what does that mean? Surprisingly, the United States has relatively few resources to address the immediate containment and safe movement of a terrorist device of any kind. Police bomb squads and ordnance disposal units and a few special units have the means to contain a device. But most of the organizations that would be involved in the immediate aftermath of the discovery of a terrorist bomb, and there are lots of them, and many of the thousands of potential target locations do not. So the clock would be ticking away until the specialized handling capabilities needed to contain a bomb could arrive. If that device needs to be moved, there is an even bigger problem. No one wants a chemical or biological weapon being driven through their community in the back of a police car or fire truck.
Billions of dollars are being spent on homeland security and countering improvised explosive devices abroad. There have been lots of investments in exotic technologies to detect and defeat terrorist bombs of all sorts. But when it comes to simple, low-cost, yet effective systems to contain a weapon of mass destruction or high explosive device, we have not done enough.
These systems exist. U.S. companies such as NABCO have been producing specialized fixed and mobile containment vessels for chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosive threats. The U.S. military, FBI, ATF, Secret Service, Capitol Police, 125 state and local bomb squads and even 30 airports have deployed NABCO systems. That just leaves a few thousand more that need to have such a capability. Among these is the National Guard which is responsible for local civil support in the event of weapon of mass destruction in the United States.
For a relatively small amount of money, the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security could provide additional real protection for thousands of military and civilian installations and tens of millions of people.
Find Archived Articles: