nicate resulting decisions to the right parties as rapidly as possible. If a tank car filled with chlorine has been blown open in a switching yard, what areas of the city are at risk? If there has been a sarin attack on an office building, how should the nerve agent best be kept localized? There are many factors to consider in determining the answers to these questions; explicit, one-size-fits-all solutions will not always be appropriate. The incident commander must have the ability to adapt in real time.
One important need is for software that will allow the commander to predict the movement of chemical agents—through the city’s atmosphere, in buildings, or in tunnel systems. Work on this type of tool, especially in the area of atmospheric modeling, is proceeding, but there are at present several competing models whose results are often in disagreement. Further R&D is clearly needed to resolve these anomalies or develop more dependable alternatives.
Another important source of information for incident commanders is fast access to reliable expertise (sometimes called “reachback”). Chemistry is technically complex, and first responders and their leaders cannot be expected to know the details for all possible chemical attacks. They must be able to consult, in real time, with experts familiar with the characteristics of the weapons. A panel (or panels) of such experts should be formed immediately to improve the likelihood that they will be available when needed and to ensure that appropriate channels for effective communication are established. (Industrial risk and industrial safety groups might be a good source of experts.) The Marine Corps has worked with such a reachback group—the Chemical/Biological Incident Response Force (CBIRF)—and this experience might provide a starting point for the design of groups to serve incident commanders and first responders. Even without a terrorist event, these groups could be of use—there are unfortunately enough chemical spills and accidents nationally for responders to benefit from the group’s input (and give it real opportunities to practice).
Recommendation 4.18: FEMA, with technical support from the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA), should be tasked with developing a communications structure for ensuring that response teams have quick access to reliable expertise when managing chemical incidents. In addition, these agencies should establish and test a prototype panel of experts.
The United States has a very competent medical system, but it is not currently prepared to deal with chemical attacks (especially with nerve or blister agents). Two areas in particular are in need of improvement: (1) the inability of the medical system to handle a large number of casualties from a chemical attack and (2) the lack of experience on the part of the nation’s health professionals in