The head of the Department of Homeland Security’s newest office got an inside look at how the nation’s first responders train to combat weapons of mass destruction during a visit to the Center for Domestic Preparedness.

Jim McDonnell, Assistant Secretary of the DHS’ Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction (CWMD) Office, led a contingent of federal visitors, including members of the Senate Appropriations Committee, FBI and FEMA’s National Preparedness Directorate, to the CDP May 16.

After sharing a few words about the mission of the CWMD office and receiving a briefing about the CDP, McDonnell and the group visited the Noble Training Facility, where they got to see healthcare responders and leaders engaged in hands-on activities which are part of the ‘Framework for Healthcare Emergency Management’ and ‘Barrier Precautions and Controls for Highly Infectious Diseases’ courses.

The group then visited the Advanced Responder Training Complex, where the action was both indoors and out, beginning with a walkthrough of a Field Force Extrication course which was underway. The group also got to see CDP support to its federal partners, as a Department of Health and Human Services’ National Disaster Medical Service course was being conducted.  Additionally, the visitors witnessed a rollover simulator being tested and got a tour inside the ARTC’s street and subway training areas.

The group followed by touring the COBRA Training Facility, where they received in-depth briefings about training at the location and the benefits the one-of-its-kind venue provides to civilian emergency responders.

The CDP mission ties in closely with the new CWMD office. The mission of the CWMD is to counter attempts by terrorists or other actors to carry out an attack against the United States or its interests using a weapon of mass destruction. DHS Secretary Kirstien Nielsen established the CWMD Office in December 2017 by consolidating DHS’ Domestic Nuclear Detection Office and a majority of the Office of Health Affairs, as well as other DHS elements. 

“The United States faces rising danger from terrorist groups and rogue nation states who could use chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear agents to harm Americans,” Nielsen said at the time. “That’s why DHS is moving towards a more integrated approach, bringing together intelligence, operations, interagency engagement, and international action. As terrorism evolves, we must stay ahead of the enemy, and the establishment of this office is an important part of our efforts to do so.”

According to DHS, intelligence analysis shows terrorist groups are actively pursuing WMD capabilities, are using battlefield environments to test them, and may be working to incorporate these methods into external operations in ways we have not seen previously. Certain weapons of mass destruction, once viewed as out-of-reach for all but nation states, are now closer to being attained by non-state actors. A terrorist attack using such a weapon against the United States would have a profound and potentially catastrophic impact on our nation and the world.