--> Gill Blog: Evaluating TOPOFF 3

Gill Blog

Monday, April 25, 2005

Evaluating TOPOFF 3

A few weeks ago, we heard news of a massive simulation of simultaneously occurring terrorist incidents that took place in Connecticut and New Jersey. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Top Officials Three Exercise (TOPOFF 3) is a Congressionally mandated exercise designed to strengthen the nation’s capacity to prevent, prepare for, respond to, and recover from large-scale terrorist attacks involving weapons of mass destruction (WMDs). Essentially, this was an exercise to gauge how well a number of authorities would respond and coordinate activities in a fully cooperative manner. The details of the event are described in this article which refers to the exercise as a "gaming exercise", but stresses:
it is no game to those dedicated first responders and emergency officials from all levels of government, who have taken on the urgent responsibility of terrorism prevention and response
This was in fact a simultation that took place on a grand scale. The program is the latest application of a procedure that has actually been in place since 2000:
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.
As this last point emphasizes, the scope of TOPOFF has gone beyond testing the capabilities of a large number of domestic organizations involved in emergency management, and included two of its closest allies:
“The threat from international terrorism remains real and serious, and is a worldwide concern. It is vital we make every effort to enhance and develop our resilience to this threat by working closely with our international colleagues. Exercise Atlantic Blue provides an excellent opportunity to do just this, through sharing best practice on emergency planning and response procedures,” said Hazel Blears, U.K. Minister with responsibility for Counter Terrorism and Resilience.
The results of the exercise are being analyzed and evaluated.