- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 24, 2007

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Dozens of high-level officials joined in a White House drill yesterday to see how the government would respond if several cities were attacked simultaneously by the type of roadside bombs used against American troops in Iraq.

White House homeland security adviser Frances Fragos Townsend presided over the three-hour exercise that brought the government’s highest-level homeland security officials to the Eisenhower Executive Office Building next to the White House. All Cabinet agencies were represented by their secretaries or other high-ranking officials, with about 90 participants, said Scott Stanzel, a White House spokesman.

Mr. Stanzel said the drill revealed gaps in the government’s ability to respond, but also showed that there have been many improvements since Hurricane Katrina exposed federal inadequacies when it devastated the Gulf Coast in 2005. For instance, coordination with state and local authorities and the ability to get federal resources in place quickly — key missteps after Katrina — appeared much better now, he said.

President Bush went on a bike ride not far from the White House yesterday morning and did not take part in the test.

Mrs. Townsend and the Homeland Security Council mapped out in advance a massive disaster involving improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in 10 U.S. cities at the same time, using a combination of large and small towns, said a senior administration official, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

Mr. Stanzel said the test was not inspired by new intelligence or any increased chatter about terrorists’ desire to use IEDs inside the United States. He noted that both the World Trade Center bombing in 1993 and the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995 involved homemade bombs.

“The threat of an IED goes back 14 years,” he said. “It’s important for the administration to prepare for any eventuality, just as we have prepared for a pandemic flu, a smallpox outbreak or a major hurricane.”

Mrs. Townsend’s scenario envisioned requests pouring in from state and local authorities, and also assumed many local abilities would be diminished by the scale of the disaster. The discussion began with the period immediately after the attacks, then moved to circumstances gamed out for weeks later. At each point, the agency representatives were directed to detail what they would do, the official said.

The next step is for the Homeland Security Council to study the exercise and report on what gaps were revealed, Mr. Stanzel said.


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