Academic Simulation Describes Potential WMD Threat From Essay

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Academic Simulation

Describes potential WMD threat from Andean Religious Fighters

Two-Step Operations Plan

Prevent the attack

Threat is nebulous

Threat is well organized

Response to the attack

Response follows the adage that no battle plan survives the first shot

Response is predictable based on known lethality of agent

Threat is real and represents a legitimate threat to national security

Threat demands immediate and stepped-up response

Pursue step one more aggressively

Coordinate step two with local first responders in the interim


Office of Counterterrorism


Counter Terrorist Unit

Supervisor, Weapons of Mass Destruction


Identified Weapons of Mass Destruction Threat

Threat Description

Based on credible reports from local nationals, in-country and airborne surveillance, there is reason to believe that approximately one dozen fringe members of the Andean Regional Freedom Fighters (ARFF) have acquired a large quantity of sarin, which is classified as a weapon of mass destruction pursuant to UN Resolution 687. The ARFF terrorists receive support from the International Warriors of Our Freedom (IWOOF) and have stockpiled approximately 220 pounds of sarin at a warehouse in a Chicago suburb. These terrorists are seeking redress for perceived environmental destruction of Ecuador by American multinationals such as Occidental Petroleum and other U.S.-based interests (Merari, 2002). There is reason to believe that there is an arsenal of small arms weapons and ammunition, including rocket-powered grenades, in this facility as well. The sarin attack will be delivered by a truck sprayer just upwind of a prominent landmark ("The Picasso") in Chicago as described below:

1. A sprayer truck upwind of "The Picasso" in Daley Plaza releases 220 pounds of aerosolized sarin.

2. The sarin cloud spreads downwind at a rate of about 6 miles per hour from the west. After it travels approximately 1-1/2 miles downwind and about half a mile cross wind, it becomes diluted enough that the agent is no longer a threat.

3. Within the affected area, the agent remains effective up to four hours.

4. The affected area is an ellipse about 1-1/2 miles long and one-half mile wide. Approximately one-quarter of that area has enough agent that 50% of those exposed will be injured or die; in the remaining area, about 10% of those exposed will be injured or die.

5. News of the attack at the prominent building hits radio and television media within 15 minutes of the first release (adapted from Davis, Latourrette, Mosher, Davis & Howell, 2003).

Daley Plaza is a popular tourist destination as well as the center of number scheduled events each year, ensuring that crowds in the numbers described in the scenario below (at least 30,000) will be present at the time of the sarin release.

Operations Plan

The operations plan in response to the above-described threat is two-fold: first, and most importantly, to prevent the threat from taking place from the outset and the second, to respond effectively if step one fails. These two scenarios are described further below.

How to Prevent the Threat

Preventing the threat represented by the ARFF members requires intercepting the group before they can act because dispersal can be as simple as puncturing a bag of the gas in a crowd of people (Hood, 2001). The ARFF faction has several known safe houses in the Chicago area, including Des Plaines and Palatine, but the organization is believed to have several unknown sympathizers as well based on widespread perceptions of corporate evildoings in the Andean region in general and in Ecuador in particular (Vredenburg & Garcia, 2007). The current location of the warehouse where the sarin is stored is unknown, and interdiction efforts are ongoing. If these efforts fail, the procedures outlined in step two below should be generally followed.

How to React to the Attack

Notwithstanding the thousands of casualties that will likely result from an aerosolized release of sarin in downtown Chicago, the cumulative effect of such an attack would be far more widespread. In this regard, McCarthy emphasizes that, "A successful terrorist doesn't have to do much to cause havoc. All he has to do is instill fear, regardless of how remote real harm may be. The best fear-generating tool in his arsenal is shock" (2001, p. 2). Moreover, reacting to a sarin attack is complicated by the fact that people die within just a few minutes if they inhale a lethal dose of the agent (Davis et al., 2003). Moreover, even those who survive the initial attack but who are exposed to sufficient quantities of the gas are at risk of developing neurological problems and victims and first responders to sarin incidents are at risk death or subsequent memory disturbances and other adverse neurobehavioral effects as a result of exposure (Hood, 2001).

Because many first responders will likely succumb to the effects of the aerosolized sarin, the plan of action must remain sufficiently flexible to accommodate last-minute (and second) changes as outlined in Table 1 below.

Table 1

Timeline of Events following Sarin Release and Affected Responders



Affected Responders


Aerosolized sarin release in a city.

Disruption of emergency services

Law and order

First responders on the scene will be overwhelmed by the aerosol. Hazmat teams will require time to identify agent. Insufficient personal protective equipment means some responders will be exposed to sarin. If time allows, these personnel will play a key role in alerting public before sarin cloud arrives. Must respond to mass anxiety, spontaneous self-evacuation of the area, and the establishment of exclusion zones.

Fire services

First arriving units are overwhelmed by aerosol. Some put on their tanks and masks and are able to operate. Subsequent units are better prepared but hampered by the time limits of their air supply.

Hazmat teams

Identify the agent and characterize the cloud.


First arriving units are overwhelmed by aerosol. Many do not have personal protective equipment.

Disruption of health services

Medical care

Overwhelmed by thousands of victims. Stressed by people exhibiting psychosomatic symptoms. Strained by decontamination issues. This element can also be gauged by a previous sarin release: "On 20 March 1995, members of the Aum Shinrikyo religious cult released sarin in the Tokyo subway, using umbrellas to puncture newspaper-wrapped bags of the gas as they left the trains. Twelve people were killed in the incident, and more than 5,500 required emergency medical treatment" (p. 542).

Public health

Epidemiologic investigation is straightforward. Education is the largest issue. Quick recovery but monitor those exposed for long-term effects. While the sarin aerosol becomes ineffective after four hours, authorities will likely need 8 to 20 additional hours to investigate before allowing people back into the affected area. Extensive decontamination is not necessary since sarin is not persistent.

Behavioral health

Initial confusion and anxiety. Possible depression and post traumatic stress disorder issues. In addition, long-term neuropsychological deficits (cognitive, problems with emotion) might be significant.

Mortuary services

No major impact.

Bodies are not hazardous.

Disruption of infrastructure


Potential for widespread anxiety, crowd-control issues as some flee the city, but expected to be short-lived given the short duration of the attack.

Telephone, television, radio, Internet, etc.

Cell phone, landlines, and email might be overwhelmed, but short duration of attack reduces load quickly.

Environmental safety

Clean air, soil, ground and surfaces

Contaminated air disperses quickly. Agent can linger for about 1 to 4 hours depending on environmental conditions.

Time to recovery

Initial recovery likely to require 24 hours. Decontamination of affected area not necessary.

Agent will dilute and lose effectiveness within 4 hours.

Evacuation needs / actions

Spontaneous self-evacuation of the area might cause traffic problems.

The surprise nature of the attack does not allow time for warning or evacuation; however, within 15 minutes of the attack, the media alerts the public to take precautions.


Number of people exposed


Number of people injured (without preventive measures)



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