Pentagon beefs up defense against domestic terrorism

17 Guard teams to respond to chemical, biological war

January 14, 2000|By Tom Bowman | Tom Bowman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- In a continuing effort to deal with the growing threat of domestic terrorism, 17 National Guard teams will be created to help state and local officials respond to chemical and biological attacks, Pentagon officials said yesterday.

The 22-member, specially trained teams will be created by July in Virginia and 16 other states, joining teams formed in 10 states, including Pennsylvania.

Maryland was not among the states listed yesterday for the Weapons of Mass Destruction Civil Support Teams.

Charles Cragin, assistant secretary of defense for reserve affairs, said the teams would be able to move rapidly and assist local firefighters and other emergency workers in the event of a terrorist incident.

They would use detection equipment to determine the chemical or biological agent used, and provide medical and other technical support.

Team members, who would work full time for the Guard, would be recruited from the Army or Air National Guard and receive 15 months of rigorous training.

"They have received training in the radiologic, chemical and biological aspects, protective gear, how you enter a hot zone, things of that nature," Cragin said.

Cragin said $60 million was spent last year to train, equip and employ the teams. This year $75 million has been set aside, including $58 million to train the 17 new teams.

He said it would cost about $2 million a year to maintain a single team.

Some in Congress have pressed for the creation of 54 Guard teams around the country.

The General Accounting Office, the watchdog arm of Congress, questions whether the creation of the Guard teams amounts to a duplication of effort. The Marines, the Army, the Coast Guard and several federal agencies have created response teams.

"We don't think that they're duplicative," said Cragin, explaining that the Guard teams will be a "state resource" while the others are federal teams with other duties, such as attending presidential inaugurations, political conventions and such events as the Olympic Games, to prepare for a possible terrorist attack.

"And so there really wasn't enough of this resource to be able to field throughout the United States that really could exercise regularly with [emergency workers] in their areas of operation," Cragin said.

Public health experts argue that too much money is being spent on the creation of response teams and not enough on the medical response to a terrorist attack.

They see a need for more spending on stockpiling medicines, creating more federal labs to analyze chemical and biological agents, and setting up a communications network between the federal government and local health departments.

About $51 million was spent last year to begin creating a national stockpile of medicines, while $52 million has been set aside for this year.

That is a small percentage of the hundreds of millions of dollars needed to create and maintain the medicines that would be needed, experts said.

Teams announced yesterday would be set up in Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Minnesota, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Virginia.

The first 10 Guard teams are based in Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, California, Massachusetts, Missouri, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas and Washington.

Cragin expected those teams to be ready to offer help to state or local officials in March.

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