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GAO: Nuclear Plant Protection Officers Need More Training

Posted by kinchendavid on November 28, 2006

By Jim Kouri

A successful terrorist attack on a Department of Energy site containing nuclear weapons material could have devastating effects for the site and nearby communities. The DOE’s Office of the Under Secretary for Energy, Science and Environment, which is responsible for DOE operations in areas such as energy research, manages five sites that contain weapons-grade nuclear material. A heavily armed security force equipped with such items as automatic weapons protects ESE sites.

Protective forces at the five ESE sites containing weapons-grade nuclear material generally meet existing DOE readiness requirements. Specifically, the ESE protective forces generally comply with DOE standards for firearms proficiency, physical fitness levels, and equipment standardization and that the five ESE sites had the required training programs, facilities, and equipment.

However, at the request of the US Congress, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) inspection did find some weaknesses at ESE sites that could adversely affect the ability of protective forces to defend these sites. For example, despite the importance of training exercises in which protective forces undergo simulated attacks by a group of mock terrorists — known as force-on-force exercises — DOE neither sets standards for individual protective force officers to participate in these exercises, nor does it require sites to track individual participation.

GAO also found that protective force officers at all five of the ESE sites reported problems with their radio communications systems. Specifically, according to 66 of the 105 protective force officers GAO interviewed, they did not always have dependable radio communications as required by the DOE’s Protective Force Program Manual. Security officials stated that related improvements were under way.

To successfully defend against the larger terrorist threat by October 2008, DOE and ESE officials recognize that they will need to take several prompt and coordinated actions. These include transforming its current protective force into an elite, possibly federalized, force, developing and deploying new security technologies to reduce the risk to protective forces in case of an attack, consolidating and eliminating nuclear weapons material between and among ESE sites, and creating a sound ESE management structure that has sufficient authority to ensure coordination across all ESE offices that have weapons-grade nuclear material.

These include transforming its current protective force into an “elite force”–modeled on U.S. Special Forces, developing and deploying new security technologies to reduce the risk to protective forces in case of an attack, consolidating and eliminating nuclear weapons material between and among ESE sites to reduce security costs, and creating a sound ESE management structure that has sufficient authority to ensure coordination across all ESE offices that have weapons-grade nuclear material.

Critics of the security program at these facilities note that airport security officers are federal employees as well as security officers in other departments, yet when it comes to the most critical facilities private security companies are contracted to perform protective services.

However, because these initiatives, particularly an elite force, are in early stages of development and will require significant commitment of resources and coordination across DOE and ESE, their completion by the 2008 October DBT implementation deadline is uncertain.

Sources: Government Accountability Office, US Department of Energy, National Security Institute, American Society for Industrial Security, National Association of Chiefs of Police

* * * *

Jim Kouri is fifth vice-president of the National Association of Chiefs of Police and he’s a staff writer for the New Media Alliance (thenma.org). He’s a former chief at a New York City housing project in Washington Heights nicknamed “Crack City” by reporters covering the drug war in the 1980s. In addition, he served as director of public safety at a New Jersey university and director of security for several major organizations. Kouri has appeared as on-air commentator for more than 100 TV and radio news and talk shows including Oprah, McLaughlin Report, CNN Headline News, MTV, Fox News, etc. Kouri’s own website is http://jimkouri.U.S.

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