U.S. scales back national preparedness drills

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Sunday, April 4, 2010

WASHINGTON—A live exercise intended to respond to the detonation of a nuclear bomb in the heart of Las Vegas has been canceled after lawmakers and business owners argued that such a drill would frighten away tourists and “unacceptably harm’’ the region’s battered economy, according to an article in the Boston Globe.

The drill, which was scheduled to happen in May, would have involved more than 10,000 emergency responders, troops and officials playing their respective roles during the staged emergency.

White House officials and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano say they are trying to improve the national exercises, not undercut them. But Napolitano has also said that the drills have grown too large and become an “elaborate game’’ rather than opportunities for officials to work through problems, reported the Globe.

The government is also considering scaling back the National Level Exercise, scheduled for 2011, a drill designed to prepare for a catastrophic terrorist attack or natural disaster. The exercise was planned as a five-day test in the Midwest for a 7.7-magnitude earthquake, but the Federal Emergency Management Agency may instead limit the event to three days and test for a milder earthquake, state and federal officials said.

FEMA administrator Craig Fugate has acknowledged concerns about the large-scale exercises, but said officials are committed to other kinds of drills, particularly those conducted without notice.

While the administration is “in lockstep in our continued commitment’’ to NLEs, he said, “our exercises have to go beyond the large-scale, preplanned events. We have to do a lot more exercises on a day-to-day basis,’’ according to the Globe.

Since 2005, FEMA has spent $218 million on national exercises, testing scenarios that include an outbreak of the pneumonic plague, chemical attacks, and dirty bombs.