Combating Terrorism

Analysis of Federal Counterterrorist Exercises Gao ID: NSIAD-99-157BR June 25, 1999

Terrorist attacks against U.S. personnel and interests domestically and abroad underscore the need for effective U.S. efforts to combat terrorism. U.S. policy and implementing guidelines call for robust, tailored, and rapidly deployable interagency teams to conduct well-coordinated and highly integrated operations. Federal agencies enhance their ability to respond to terrorist attacks by conducting exercises that train key personnel and test response teams. GAO recently briefed congressional staff on the numbers, the scenarios, and the participants involved in federal counterterrorism exercises done from June 1995 to June 1998. This report summarizes those briefings.

GAO noted that: (1) federal agencies conducted 201 counterterrorism exercises in the 3 years following Presidential Decision Directive 39; (2) the number of exercises per year more than tripled over the 3-year period, with the largest increase in the last year; (3) agencies used a variety of types of exercises and scenarios during this period; (4) more than half of the exercises were field exercises (where command and response personnel actually deployed with their equipment), and the rest were tabletop exercises (where personnel discussed a particular scenario); (5) very few of the exercises included no-notice deployments of personnel and equipment; (6) over one-half of the exercises dealt with managing the immediate crisis resulting from a terrorist incident, including stopping a terrorist attack, while the others dealt with managing the consequences of the incident, such as caring for the injured; (7) until recently, very few exercises dealt with the likely situation of both crisis and consequence management occurring simultaneously; (8) more than two-thirds of the exercises had weapons of mass destruction (WMD) scenarios, while the others had more traditional and more likely terrorist scenarios involving conventional arms and explosives; (9) over half of the WMD exercises used scenarios that used chemical agents; (10) there was a variety of participants in these exercises; (11) more than two-thirds of the exercises included more than one federal agency and almost one-half of them included three or more federal agencies; (12) some exercises also included participants of organizations other than federal agencies; (13) for example, one-third of the exercises included state or local government participants, almost one-tenth of them had nongovernmental participants, and a few had foreign government participants; and (14) federal agencies played various roles in these exercises, depending on their roles and their level of participation.

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