Federal Officials Prepare for Aftermath of Nuclear Attack

By Priscilla Ybarra and Sara Peck

Although the chances of a nuclear attack remain slim, the effects would be colossal, witnesses at a Senate hearing said.

“We can expect hundreds of thousands of casualties,” said Paul McHale, assistant secretary of defense for homeland defense and America’s security affairs. In addition, there would be 100,000 victims heltering in safe areas, 250,000 sheltering in place to avoid the lume, and contamination of up to 3,000 square miles from the site of the explosion, he added.

The initial blast would involve injuries from radiation, burns and broken glass. “Failure to develop and test a comprehensive plan for dealing with the aftermath would magnify its impact,” said Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., chairman of Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee. The committee has held five hearings examining the government’s preparedness in response to a nuclear attack.

However, when developing an initial response plan, officials should assume that federal support wouldn’t arrive at the scene for as long as 48 hours, said James Schwartz, chief of the Arlington County, Va., Fire Department. Local governments must be prepared to work on their own for up to 72 hours, he said.

“In order to achieve the level of coordination needed to carry out an effective response, the command structure must be respected by responders at all levels of the government,” Schwartz said.

Other functions of responders at the scene of destruction would include applying medical resources, informing public of actions to take and requesting additional assistance.

Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator R. David Paulison said the agency is participating in a multi-part project that includes developing a communications strategy for informing the public, modeling the effects of a nuclear explosion in a large city and assessing whether strategic stockpiles of critical medical supplies are adequate to respond to such an attack.

“Such an attack would present a scale and complexity of destruction that could immediately challenge or overwhelm the capabilities of state and local resources,” Paulison said.

Topics: Chem Bio Protection, Homeland Security, Disaster Response

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