Frank Fiore – Novelist & Screenwriter

March 22, 2010

Are We Prepared for a Dirty Bomb Attack?

Filed under: CyberKill — Frank Fiore @ 2:09 PM

A dirty bomb plot is one element of my new novel CyberKill. In the story terrorists of the Digitari Brotherhood plant a dirty bomb on the Capitol Mall on July 4th when thousands of people will be there for the celebration.

How prepared are we for such an attack? Not very says a recent report.

The U.S. Homeland Security Department has not met an executive mandate to produce a national recovery plan to deal with the lingering effects of a terrorist assault involving a radiological “dirty bomb” or a crude nuclear device, according to a Government Accountability Office report recently released.

Presently, much of federal planning for dealing with a “dirty bomb” attack has centered on immediate response efforts such as evacuating residents and providing them with medical countermeasures.

Longer-term efforts to sanitize contaminated land have lagged behind, according to the report.

What’s more likely to happen would be a scenario like this and how people would really react after such an attack.

Right At Your Door

Right at Your Door is a 2006 American thriller film about multiple dirty bombs detonated in Los Angeles. After Lexi leaves home to visit Central LA, there’s a terrorist attack involving chemical bombs. After the attack, her musician husband, Brad, fails to find her and reluctantly seals himself inside his house.

Detecting such a device is another matter. Here’s a scene in CyberKill that gives you an idea on how such a detection process would work once a dirty bomb threat is determined.

As he looked up at the helicopters passing over the Washington Monument, Major Brodie Ryder, commander of the Army HAZMAT team, said, “We have one thing in our favor, Dixon. With all the show of security here on the Mall for the 4th, our activities should go pretty much unnoticed.”

“Right,” said Dixon.

Because of the necessity of security, the Mall was surrounded by ten miles of wood-slatted snow fences to secure the area against possible terrorist threats during the festivities. There were, in fact, two parallel snow fences, spaced about fifteen to twenty feet apart, erected around the Mall to prevent a terrorist outside the area from handing harmful materials to someone inside the inner fence.

Thousands of celebrants were allowed entry onto the Mall only through twenty-four checkpoints where their personal items were inspected to ensure they weren’t carrying weapons, alcohol, firecrackers, grills, glass bottles, or other potentially dangerous items. About 2,500 police officers from various jurisdictions were on duty, in uniform and in plainclothes, to patrol the area and nab those who tried to avoid the checkpoints.

AJ arrived and walked into the temporary command tent set just outside the first checkpoint. She handed both men several sheets of paper.

“Here’s the location of the portable toilets from the sanitation company, scattered up and down the Mall.”

Ryder handed his to a nearby sergeant. “Get these distributed to the teams, sergeant.” He turned to Dixon and AJ and said, “You’re sure it’s the real thing we’re dealing with? Not some prank?”

“We checked with Lawrence Livermore in the Bay Area,” AJ said. “They keep a computerized database filled with thousands of pages of everything publicly written about making a radioactive device: newspaper clippings, magazine articles, scientific journal reports, even passages from techno-thrillers. Livermore can quickly run a cross-check on the design of the bomb and see if it’s the real thing or just something lifted from a Clancy novel.”

“And?” asked Ryder.

“It’s the real McCoy,” she said grimly.

“We have HAZMAT helicopters equipped with radiation detectors flying over the area looking for telltale signs of radiation,” said Ryder. They were all now standing before a map of the Mall. “Unfortunately, they may be too high to pinpoint anything as small as a bomb. That’s why we’re also using SUVs equipped with electronic detectors. Still, the vans are only good for locating the general proximity of the dirty bomb.”

“And that’s where the ground teams come in,” said Dixon.

“Right. They’re the ones that’ll do the real hunting, on foot. If a van detects any gamma radiation, the two-person search team assigned to that grid will narrow the search to the john we’re looking for. We have a hundred of these two-person teams, dressed as inconspicuously as possible, walking through the crowds around the Mall waiting to be called in.”

“Are they carrying any equipment?” asked AJ.

“Yes, special radiation detectors, small enough to fit in a backpack,” Ryder replied.

“I’d like to go out with one of those teams,” she said.

“Sure,” said Ryder. “Hook up with Echo Team.

They’re down by the Monument.” Ryder turned to an aide in the tent and added, “Give this agent a lift to Team Echo.”

The aide nodded and escorted AJ out of the command tent.



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