By Kenneth Deal
In 2011, an earthquake and tsunami brought unimaginable destruction to Japan. These natural disasters were made more catastrophic by their impact on nuclear reactors at Fukushima. Though almost six years have passed, the life-threatening and massively destructive effects of this disaster remain a vivid reminder of the critical importance of national preparedness for chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear incidents.
Given the far-reaching effects and potential destruction of a natural or man-made chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear incident, preparedness at national levels is an international concern. If an incident of this nature were to occur, a country’s response within the first 24 to 48 hours is the most likely window to contain the danger and save lives. The complexity, uncertainty, and unexpectedness of these incidents make advance coordination crucial.
The U.S. Department of State’s Office of Weapons of Mass Destruction Terrorism coordinates the United States government’s efforts to help partner nations around the globe confront challenges like these efficiently and effectively. Working with the Department of Defense’s Defense Threat Reduction Agency and other U.S. federal agencies, we facilitate the delivery of a range of training programs and exercises designed to strengthen response authorities, plans, and procedures. On average, we support 10 to 12 events per year. These initiatives improve our response capabilities as well as the capabilitiesof our partner countries, advancing international security.
Kenya is one such partner. Last month, experts from the U.S. Departments of State, Defense, and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts – Kenya’s National Guard State Partner – conducted Exercise “Nairobi Treasure” with key Kenyan ministries. This tabletop exercise builds on a long history of cooperation between the United States and military and civilian chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear first responders in Kenya. The exercise offered a hypothetical incident to Kenyan ministries and agencies, giving them the opportunity to hone their roles and responsibilities. Designed to stimulate discussion, the exercise required participants to examine and resolve problems based on existing response plans, then to identify areas in which those plans needed to be refined.
Kenyan participants included officials from several ministries, military units and civilian national response organizations. Broad participation in this exercise demonstrates Kenya’s firm commitment to developing civilian and military first response capabilities, furthering the country’s role as a regional leader in this field. “Nairobi Treasure” enabled the Government of Kenya to exercise and strengthen the tools it has in place to respond to chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear incidents.
The Fukushima nuclear accident was devastating for many reasons: it was unanticipated; it had a complex array of destructive immediate and long-term effects; and it called on Japanese agencies and officials to respond and recover at a time of national devastation. Chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear incidents require comprehensive national preparedness. In the face of these potential threats, exercises like “Nairobi Treasure” are some of the best tools the United States offers international partners to help ensure the safety and security of their citizens.
About the Author: Kenneth Deal serves as Program Manager in the Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation's Office of Weapons of Mass Destruction Terrorism at the U.S. Department of State.