The Naval Postgraduate School & The U.S. Department of Homeland Security

Major Cities Could Benefit from Federal Guidance on Nuclear Terrorism Response Plans

A recent report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) claims that major cities in the United States could benefit from federal guidance on implementing nuclear terrorism response plans. Major cities are assumed to be the main targets of nuclear or radiological attacks, and a successful RDD (radiological dispersal device) or IND (improvised nuclear device) attack would cause extensive physical, psychological, and economic damage to a population. State and local governments have primary responsibility for responding to terrorist attacks but they do not all have a proper understanding of how to respond to an RDD or IND attack.

GAO was asked to conduct a review of response preparedness for attacks of nuclear terrorism in major cities. It consulted a total of 27 cities in its review and considered cities':

  1. "Assessment of RDD and IND risks and development of response plans
  2. Perceptions of their abilities to respond within the first 24 hours, and
  3. Perceptions of the need for federal support in early response to these attacks."

GAO found that "most emergency managers reported perceived needs for federal technical and resource assistance to support their cities' early response to RDD (19 of 27 cities) and IND (21 of 27 cities) attacks," in addition to increased federal funding to maintain current capabilities. GAO believes that gaps in early response abilities warrant federal attention, such as increased guidance from FEMA.