Zalud Report / Columns

Authorities Team Up for Dirty Bomb Responses

Bomb squad

A hazardous materials team approaches a simulated dirty bomb attack during a joint readiness exercise conducted late last year. U.S. National Guard photo by Airman 1st Class Deanna De Laura

There is a dirty bomb music video. There are at least three dirty bomb movies.

But, when it comes to reality, such weapons are fairly easy to assemble and activate.

So it is not surprising that federal, state and local law enforcement officials working with corporate and healthcare enterprise security executives concentrate their efforts on ways to coordinate responses to an attack. Not really a weapon of mass destruction, a dirty bomb is more psychologically harmful than life threatening. It combines radioactive material with conventional explosives. The purpose: to contaminate the area around the explosion with radioactive material, explaining the “dirty” handle.

But, according to U.S. Homeland Security and Department of Energy (DoE) sources interviewed by the Zalud Report, the bomb part would probably be more harmful than the dirty part.

A test explosion and subsequent calculations done by DoE found that even assuming nothing is done to clean up the affected area and everyone stays in the area for one year, which is not likely, the radiation exposure would be “fairly high,” but not fatal.


Private-Public Exercises

So it makes sense for first responders, working with enterprise and real estate security executives, to conduct exercises to best handle potential incidents and the essential need to communicate to affected and national audiences.

One recent example: in late September, the United States wrapped up a group of exercises in which national, state and jurisdictional authorities weighed potential reactions to a hypothetical crisis involving multiple radiological dirty bombs, the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) told the Zalud Report.

Called “Amber Waves 2012,” the drill enabled government personnel to address matters concerning the assumption of administrative powers held by the interagency Federal Radiological Monitoring and Assessment Center during mitigation activities following a radiological strike. “Exercises of this type are crucial to providing an interagency capability to respond to a large scale radiological or nuclear emergency,” states NNSA Associate Administrator Joseph Krol. “We are evaluating and improving our procedures to provide necessary federal support to state and local agencies responsible for protecting the public and environment following a release of radiological materials.”

These exercise centered on Leavenworth County, Kan., and Kansas City, Mo.

In the past, Homeland Security and military officials have felt Al-Qaeda operatives were working on dirty bombs. In 2002, for instance, José Padilla (a.k.a. Abdulla al-Muhajir) was arrested on suspicion that he was an Al-Qaeda terrorist planning to detonate a dirty bomb in the U.S., following information from Abu Zubaydah, who under interrogation revealed that the organization was close to constructing a dirty bomb. Although Padilla had not obtained radioactive material or explosives at the time of arrest, law enforcement authorities said they uncovered evidence that he was on reconnaissance for usable radioactive material and possible locations for detonation.

In 2007, a federal jury found Padilla guilty of conspiring to kill people in an overseas jihad and to fund and support overseas terrorism and was later sentenced to 17 years and four months in prison.


Seeking Detection by Mobile Devices

While conducting dirty bomb exercises and tracking potential attackers are two scenarios, there has been some off-and-on talk about building radiation detection into consumer cellular and smartphones so responders could more quickly estimate coverage of an attack.

In one case, researchers at Purdue University worked with the state of Indiana to develop a system that could blanket the nation with millions of cellphones equipped with radiation sensors able to detect even light residues of radioactive material. Because cellphones already contain global positioning locators, the network of phones would serve as a tracking system.

Handset manufacturers were less than thrilled.

Instead, federal officials are updating the national emergency alert system so that mobile phone owners can receive alerts by text message in the event of a national or regional emergency. The handsets must have a special chip, but one is already included in some phones and more acceptable to manufacturers.

The emergency messages cover alerts issued by the President, information about public safety threats and Amber Alerts for missing children. Cellphone companies must opt-in to the service and users can opt-out of any of the alerts except the Presidential messages.

This article was previously published in the print magazine as "Exercises, Arrests, Technology Aim at Dirty Bomb Worries."

Did you enjoy this article? Click here to subscribe to Security Magazine. 

Recent Articles by Bill Zalud

You must login or register in order to post a comment.



Image Galleries

ASIS 2013 Product Preview

ASIS International 59th Annual Seminar and Exhibits, September 24-27 in Chicago, Illinois, will include an exhibit hall packed with innovative security solutions. Here are some of the products that will be shown at ASIS this year.


Virtualization and Data Center Security: What You Need to Know for 2014

Data centers are increasingly becoming the center of the enterprise, and data center and cyber security is following the same path for security departments. According to Justin Flynn, a consultant at the Burwood Group, the virtualization of data centers allows enterprises to scale more easily and faster, with a smaller footprint.

However, hosting enterprise data in the cloud can make intrusion detection more difficult – how can enterprise security leaders team up with other departments to keep aware of cyber risks and traffic, and physical and data compliance during the virtual transition? How can CISOs and CSOs discuss cyber threats with the C-Suite to get the resources they need? And how can the proper infrastructure test and verify possible malicious attacks? 

More Podcasts

Security Magazine

Security June 2015 issue cover

2015 June

In this June 2015 issue of SecurityIs the security director business’s new “corporate rock star?” Find out how CSOs can become the new leaders of their enterprises through mentorships, partnerships and creatively adding business value. Also, learn how security professionals are training employees in cyber security through games. And why are deterrence and detection so important when it comes to thwarting metal thieves? Find out in this issue.

Table Of Contents Subscribe

Body Cameras on Security Officers

Body cameras are being used increasingly by police in cities across the U.S. Will you arm your security officers with a body camera?
View Results Poll Archive


Effective Security Management, 5th Edition.jpg
Effective Security Management, 5th Edition

 Effective Security Management, 5e, teaches practicing security professionals how to build their careers by mastering the fundamentals of good management. Charles Sennewald brings a time-tested blend of common sense, wisdom, and humor to this bestselling introduction to workplace dynamics. 

More Products

Clear Seas Research

Clear Seas ResearchWith access to over one million professionals and more than 60 industry-specific publications,Clear Seas Research offers relevant insights from those who know your industry best. Let us customize a market research solution that exceeds your marketing goals.


Facebook 40px 2-12-13 Twitter logo 40px 2-12-13  YouTube  LinkedIn logo 40px 2-12-13Google+

Vertical Sector Focus: Critical Infrastructures

criticalhomepagethumbFrom terrorism to vandalism, it’s preparedness, response, training and partnerships. Learn about some of the critical security issues facing this sector.

Visit the Critical Infrastructure page to read more.