TOPOFF 4 Exercising National Preparedness
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives played a significant role in the biggest counterterrorism exercise in U.S. history, called Top Officials (TOPOFF, for short).
The nationwide drill, which took place Oct. 15 – 19, entailed a series of radiological ‘attacks’ that occurred in Guam, Phoenix and Portland, Ore. It was designed to test the federal government’s ability to respond to simultaneous radiological or ‘dirty bomb’ attacks. A total of 85 ATF personnel participated nationwide.
ATF provided the flash and noise needed to simulate the detonations in Guam and Portland. Following the explosions, ATF personnel moved in to begin collecting crime scene evidence.
The attack simulation was the fourth segment in the TOPOFF series, which is mandated by Congress and administered by the Department of Homeland Security. The nationwide, multi-agency exercise involved 15,000 people from 275 organizations, including the Red Cross, as well as local hospitals, fire departments, rescue squads and other first responders.
ATF explosives enforcement officers and special agents detonated 800 pounds of TNT to create the extensive post blast scene that served as the centerpiece for the TOPOFF exercise in Portland. Later on in the TOPOFF exercise, ATF provided the impressive visual effects needed to simulate the radiological attacks in Guam and Portland.
“The Guam site kicked off with a "Wall of Fire" type shot that was extremely well received,” said Mike Schmitz, an ATF public information officer. Joseph Green, PIO team leader said, “At the Portland site, we used pyrotechnic salutes as well as a pyrotechnic that ‘crackled’ to simulate the sound of downed power lines. We also used a smoke-producing element.”
At the Portland site, ATF personnel briefed FEMA Director David Paulison regarding ATF’s role in assisting local Washington state law enforcement with post-blast crime scene efforts. Paulison also detonated the Portland pyrotechnic under the guidance of ATF explosives enforcement officers.
ATF deployed it’s National Response Teams in Portland, along with two explosives enforcement officers and one special agent bomb technician. These ATF personnel worked alongside FBI agents to recover crime scene evidence.
At the Guam site, ATF deployed another of its National Response Teams along with four local special agents to support the FBI and the Joint Terrorism Task Force investigation there.
A third ATF National Response Team was deployed at the Phoenix site.
ATF special agents also convened and led the National Emergency Support Function-13 Steering Committee, comprised of senior-level representatives of law enforcement agencies throughout the federal government.
ATF deployed seven public information officers to respond to media requests regarding ATF’s involvement in the TOPOFF exercise and to man in support in the Joint Field Office the ESF-15 (Public Information function.)
ATF's Office of Training and Professional Development (TPD) oversaw participation in the national exercise program and the TOPOFF exercise series of the National Exercise Program. To this end, TPD’s Special Operations Training Branch worked for the past two years on the TOPOFF Exercise Program.
During the last 18 months, branch members have been actively involved in planning a robust role for ATF in TOPOFF 4. They coordinated the inclusion of a number of bureau directorates in the exercise and we are participating in all exercise venues. TPD personnel have established a headquarters Critical Incident Management Support Team (CIMST) during exercise week. Additionally, TPD staff maintained a desk at the Exercise Master Control Cell in Alexandria, Va.
As an agency, ATF worked with the numerous federal, state, and local agencies and private sector organizations to build the integrated response if a terrorist attack or major disaster does occur.