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An overview of U.S. counterterrorism initiatives

By Javed Ali
Special to

(CNN) -- The events of September 11 and the subsequent anthrax incidents underscored the seriousness of the terrorism threat to the United States.

They also drew attention to a host of vulnerabilities and the need for additional training for state and local "first responders," those on the front line against possible terrorism -- firefighters, police officers, emergency medical technicians, physicians, health officials and emergency management professionals.

Since September 11, a number of initiatives have been proposed in Congress and by the Bush administration to provide additional training as part of an overall strategy to bolster domestic preparedness.

Past counterterrorism training

The U.S. government has sponsored and funded a number of training initiatives geared toward the first responder community before September 11.

In the aftermath of the March 1995 Tokyo subway nerve agent incident and the April 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, the government worked to create a national counterterrorism strategy and response framework.

Part of the plan centered on the threat of weapons of mass destruction, in particular chemical and biological agents.

Based on legislation drafted by Sens. Sam Nunn, D-Georgia, Richard Lugar, R-Indiana, and Peter Domenici, D-New Mexico, a training, exercise and equipment program for response to chemical or biological terrorism was created for first responders in the 120 largest cities.

The Domestic Preparedness Program, sponsored by Army through the Department of Defense, began in 1997.

Responders in each city went through awareness and training seminars, participated in tabletop and field exercises simulating the jurisdiction's response to an incident, and received loans to purchase counterterrorism equipment.

The program completed delivery of all three elements to 68 cities and completed delivery of the training component to a 37 more cities by October 2000.

In October 2000, the program was transferred to the Department of Justice's Office of Domestic Preparedness, through which the remaining cities are due to receive all components.

In addition, other federal agencies, such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Department of Health and Human Services, also created counterterrorism programs.

HHS created the Metropolitan Medical Response System program, in which 72 cities through 2000 received training and equipment money to establish medical response packages tailored to respond to a chemical or biological terrorist act.

Existing training facilities

A number of training facilities existed under the management or in partnership with the Office of Domestic Preparedness. Based on a congressional directive, in 1999 the office created the Center for Domestic Preparedness at Fort McClellan, Alabama.

The former Army post in part served as a "live agent" (actual toxic substances) training facility. The Center for Domestic Preparedness offered an environment in which first responders could train with actual chemical agents and other toxic substances to prepare for response to such incidents.

Other facilities working in partnership -- known as the National Domestic Preparedness Consortium -- with the Office of Domestic Preparedness include:

-- New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, which offers live explosive training and classroom instruction on explosives, firearms and incendiary devices.

-- Louisiana State University Academy of Counterterrorist Education, which provides training to law enforcement agencies on counterterrorism issues.

-- Texas A&M University National Emergency Response and Rescue Training Center, which delivers training and awareness courses on threats from weapons of mass destruction to state and local responders.

-- U.S. Department of Energy's Nevada Test Site, where large-scale field exercises are conducted using a range of live agent simulants and explosives.

Training initiatives after September 11

In late December 2001, Congress and the Bush administration agreed upon legislation earmarking close to $20 billion for homeland security.

A portion of that amount was earmarked for training of local and state first responders, since only less than 1 percent of the 11 million workers have received training through Justice Department programs.

As a result, a number of initiatives have been awarded or proposed.

In September 2001, Sen. Robert Byrd, D-West Virginia, won $2 million to begin developing a "one-stop" training center for homeland security and bioterrorism at the West Virginia National Guard's Camp Dawson.

Byrd advocates the creation of a $400 million National Training Center for Homeland Security at Camp Dawson.

The Maryland Congressional Caucus and Department of State officials advocate a plan to establish a $52 million Center for Anti-terrorism and Security Training at Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland.

Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Alabama, advocates additional funding at Fort McClellan.

Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nevada, advocates the establishment of a National Center for Counterterrorism at the Nevada Nuclear Test Site, a five-year project estimated at $250 million. Reid secured approximately $10 million for this proposal.

The Nevada Test Site

The Nevada Test Site is 65 miles north of Las Vegas and once served as the nation's premier testing facility for nuclear weapons, where 928 underground nuclear detonations were conducted through 1992.

It was also used for a number of other counterterrorism training activities since 1980.

Covering over 1,300 square miles, the NTS has a series of underground tunnels and above ground structures and laboratories that could be used as part of Reid's National Center for Counterterrorism proposal.

In October 2000, Reid met with President Bush, director of Homeland Security Tom Ridge and other senior administration officials to set forth his NTS proposal.

In November, Reid and Sen. John Ensign, R-Nevada, met with Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham regarding the NTS proposal, and Abraham agreed to visit the NTS on January 7.




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