Now Playing: Police State & Homeland Security TOP OFF 4
Frequently Asked Questions
1. What is the TOPOFF Exercise Series?
Top Officials 4 (TOPOFF 4) is the Nation’s premier terrorism preparedness exercise, involving top officials at every level of government, as well as representatives from the international community and private sector. Sponsored by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), TOPOFF 4 is the fourth exercise in the TOPOFF (Top Officials) Exercise Series, a congressionally mandated exercise program. Each TOPOFF exercise involves a two-year cycle of seminars, planning events, and exercises culminating in a full-scale assessment of the Nation’s capacity to prevent, prepare for, respond to, and recover from terrorist attacks involving Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD).
2. What is TOPOFF 4?
Taking place from October 15–24, 2007, the Top Officials 4 Full-Scale Exercise (TOPOFF 4 FSE/T4 FSE) will involve thousands of Federal, State, territorial, and local officials. They will engage in various activities as part of a robust, full-scale simulated response to a multifaceted threat. The exercise will address policy and strategic issues that mobilize prevention and response systems, require participants to make difficult decisions, carry out essential functions, and challenge their ability to maintain a common operating picture during an incident of national significance. As in a real-world response, agencies and organizations will deploy staff into the field and will face realistic incident-specific challenges, including the allocation of limited response resources and exercise actions needed to effectively manage conditions as they emerge. Planning and preparation for the exercise will also help strengthen working relationships between departments and agencies that are critical to successful prevention and response in real emergencies.
3. Where will the TOPOFF 4 Full-Scale Exercise take place? How were the venues selected?
Joining DHS and other Federal agencies in this important effort are the States of Arizona and Oregon, the United States Territory of Guam, as well as three international partners: Canada, the United Kingdom, and Australia. As radiological incidents originate in Phoenix, Arizona; Portland, Oregon; and the United States Territory of Guam, State, territorial, and local officials in Oregon and Guam will conduct a full-scale exercise, while Arizona officials will participate in a functional exercise. In coordination with the U.S. Department of State, related activities will also take place in Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom.
States request participation in the exercise to support national exercise goals and to enhance their own preparedness. Typically, two States are selected for each TOPOFF cycle. For the first time in the TOPOFF series, a U.S. territory will take part in the exercise this year.
4. What is the difference between a functional and a full-scale exercise (FSE)?
A functional exercise focuses on coordination of decision-making and communications during a simulated disaster. It is a functional assessment of planning and decision-making in a time of crisis that engages multiple agencies in policy decisions and communications over several days.
A full-scale exercise adds on-the-ground first response activities to test participants on a wide range of capabilities and task areas, including incident response, incident command, cross-jurisdictional coordination, risk communication, and implementation of protocols and policies. Participants in both full-scale and functional exercises also exercise prevention and the intelligence gathering function, which are critical to preventing terrorist attacks.
5. How many, and what kinds of, agencies are participating?
There will be approximately 15,000 participants from government and private sector organizations in TOPOFF 4. Approximately 10,000 participants from more than 275 government and private sector organizations participated in TOPOFF 3.
6. Who participates in TOPOFF training? What top officials are participating?
The exercise engages participants at all levels of government, from Cabinet Secretaries to governors, mayors, and city managers; to local fire, EMS, police, and search-and-rescue personnel; to professionals in law enforcement, public health, and public communications; to members of the private sector.
TOPOFF 4 will enable top officials and relevant personnel to practice different courses of action, gain and maintain situational awareness, and deploy appropriate resources. Top Federal officials, State governors, county executives, mayors, and city managers, along with State, local, and territorial personnel will be key participants and play active roles throughout the exercise.
7. What are the objectives of TOPOFF 4?
TOPOFF 4 has overarching programmatic objectives in five areas, which provide a framework for enhanced interagency coordination, a more cohesive planning process, and a stronger overall exercise experience for participants, culminating in a heightened ability to prevent, respond to, and recover from terrorist attacks and natural disasters. The stated objectives for TOPOFF 4 are:
- Prevention: To test the handling and flow of operational and time-critical intelligence between agencies to prevent a terrorist incident.
- Intelligence/investigation: To test the handling and flow of operational and time-critical intelligence between agencies prior to, and in response to, a linked terrorist incident.
- Incident management: To test the full range of existing procedures for domestic incident management of a terrorist weapon of mass destruction (WMD) event and to improve top officials’ capabilities to respond in partnership in accordance with the National Response Plan and National Incident Management System.
- Public information: To practice the strategic coordination of media relations and public information issues in the context of a terrorist WMD incident or incident of national significance.
- Evaluation: To identify lessons learned and promote best practices.
While working to meet the overarching exercise objectives, participating agencies, States, territories, and local entities also exercise to support their own individual objectives.
8. What role does the private sector play in T4?
DHS works through its Private Sector Office and Office of Infrastructure Protection to involve the private sector in the TOPOFF exercise cycle of events. TOPOFF 3 involved more than 5,000 members of the private sector participating at varying levels.
9. How does TOPOFF 4 differ from previous exercises in the TOPOFF series?
With each successive TOPOFF cycle, coordination and cooperation are enhanced, creating continuous improvements in the preparedness effort. The T4 FSE includes the greatest coordination to date, with concurrent exercises being conducted by the Department of Defense and, for the first time ever, will include a response from within a U.S. Territory. The exercise includes a strong prevention component, and is being interlinked with the Terrorism Prevention Exercise Program (TPEP), a component of the Homeland Security Exercise and Evaluation Program (HSEEP).
TOPOFF 4 also utilizes a capabilities-based planning approach, allowing Federal, State, territorial, and local officials to identify and exercise multiple emergency response and recovery capabilities that would be employed against a wide array of real-world hazards. Some of the capabilities being exercised this year include: evacuation/shelter-in-place, mass care, and interoperable communications. This approach aligns TOPOFF exercise program with the National Preparedness Goal and associated documents such as the Target Capabilities List (TCL) (which identifies needed capabilities) and the Universal Task List (UTL) (which identifies the tasks necessary to execute each capability). It also gives participants an opportunity to become more familiar with the National Response Plan and National Incident Management System. This collective guidance forms the framework for how our Nation responds to all hazards in a coordinated and consistent manner.
10. What is the scenario for the TOPOFF 4 FSE?
The T4 FSE is based on National Planning Scenario 11 (NPS-11). The scenario begins as terrorists, who have been planning attacks in Oregon, Arizona, and the U.S. Territory of Guam, successfully bring radioactive material into the United States. The first of three coordinated attacks occurs in Guam, with the simulated detonation of a Radiological Dispersal Device (RDD), or “dirty bomb,” causing casualties and widespread contamination in a populous area. Similar attacks occur in the hours that follow in Portland and Phoenix. An RDD is not the same as a nuclear attack. It is a conventional explosive that, upon detonation, releases radioactive material into the surrounding area. Although it does not cause the type of catastrophic damage associated with a nuclear detonation, there are severe rescue, health, and long-term decontamination concerns associated with an RDD.
11. How is the TOPOFF 4 scenario developed?
A team of exercise planners experienced in WMD, war gaming, law enforcement, intelligence, and international terrorist networks develop the scenario. The team also works with planners in the participating nations, States, territories, local jurisdictions, private sector entities, and Federal departments and agencies to ensure that the scenario can sufficiently sustain the exercise and meet participants’ specific training objectives.
12. How relevant is the TOPOFF 4 scenario to the war on terrorism?
The TOPOFF 4 scenario is based on research of actual terrorist organizations’ capabilities and news accounts of events that have transpired since September 11, 2001. The scenario is plausible, but purely fictional. It is not based on specific military or government intelligence and is not intended as a forecast of future terrorist activities. The scenario contains some artificiality to ensure conformance with agencies’ and jurisdictions’ training objectives.
13. Will real weapons be used?
Real weapons will not be used in the scenario, but the response will be mounted as if they had been.
14. How are lessons learned from past exercises used to inform and improve future exercises?
Lessons learned from each TOPOFF exercise provide valuable insights that guide future planning for securing the Nation against terrorist attacks. The Department of Homeland Security’s Homeland Security Exercise and Evaluation Program (HSEEP) is a capabilities and performance-based program that provides a standardized mechanism for building on such lessons learned. HSEEP outlines an evaluation methodology by using Exercise Evaluation Guides (EEGs). These standardized guides ensure that emergency preparedness can be measured in the exact same way everywhere exercises take place. This makes it possible to assess current capabilities and measure preparedness over time for any jurisdiction—in every response area. In addition to establishing standard evaluation tools, this model gives guidance on gathering and reporting lessons learned, which help to identify strengths and areas needing improvement. This information is then folded back into the exercise process to enhance its relevance and realism for the next exercise in the series.
15. What does it mean to “play” in the exercise? How is exercise play prompted and regulated?
Play is the term used to describe how personnel from a variety of agencies and organizations act out the response to the scenario, as though it had actually occurred. Players are fed information by exercise controllers, based on a Master Scenario Event List (MSEL). The MSEL contains a number of key events that trigger the need to make decisions and conduct activities to exercise specific agency capabilities and achieve the exercise objectives.
16. What is gained from TOPOFF training?
Top officials from all levels of government gain valuable knowledge and experience dealing with complex issues related to terrorism prevention, preparedness, response, and recovery. The exercise offers participants a mechanism to test plans and skills in a real-time, realistic environment and to gain the in-depth learning that only experience can provide. Training activities are based on the objectives of participating departments and agencies.
Several of the overarching objectives of TOPOFF 4 pertain directly to the assignment of roles and responsibilities, and the coordination of communications and operations. By exercising these objectives, participants are able to improve upon their overall ability to respond to major disasters, regardless of whether they are natural or manmade.
TOPOFF 4 also provides an opportunity to fully integrate and conform to Homeland Security Presidential Directive – 8 (HSPD-8), the National Preparedness Goal, and the National Exercise Program. DHS will introduce the five-year National Exercise Program plan during the TOPOFF 4 exercise cycle. This program combines exercise activities, affords departments and agencies the opportunity to reduce the number of separate exercises they must plan and participate in, and, more importantly, provides an opportunity to demonstrate that the government can operate effectively during an elevated threat situation.
17. How does TOPOFF influence Federal, State, territorial, and local preparedness capabilities?
The exercise will offer top officials at all levels of government an opportunity to practice and reinforce operations under the President’s National Preparedness Strategy. The exercise’s implementation of the National Response Plan (NRP) will include practicing capabilities in the areas of incident response, incident command, cross-jurisdictional coordination, emergency and risk communication, and implementation of protocols and policies. Significantly, the T4 FSE will help to introduce a more integrated approach to national preparedness, ensuring that existing preparedness initiatives are closely aligned and operationally synchronized. The T4 FSE also offers an important opportunity to aggressively exercise capabilities developed or strengthened as a result of recent events, including new technologies, policies, and procedures.
18. Is the exercise open to outside observation?
Because of the sensitive nature of the capabilities being exercised, external observation and information dissemination will be carefully managed. Some international, Federal, State, territorial, and local officials and emergency response personnel are invited to observe a portion of the exercise, so that they may better understand how we as a Nation are preparing to address terrorist threats. Members of the media will be able to attend briefings during and after the exercise. Some law enforcement and intelligence components of the exercise are classified and will not be discussed in detail.
19. What happens if there is a real terrorist attack or natural disaster while the exercise is taking place?
The exercise will be halted immediately. No essential personnel will be diverted from any type of actual emergency response effort to respond to simulated events, nor will ongoing preparedness efforts be compromised.
20. What information will be made available to the public about exercise outcomes and lessons learned?
There will be a formal evaluation of the exercise, and findings and lessons learned will be applied to ongoing efforts to improve national preparedness and security. Because of the need to maintain operational security and protect sensitive information about efforts to thwart terrorist activities, information released to the public must be carefully scrutinized. DHS and its partner agencies make every effort to keep the public informed, without releasing information that could potentially aid our enemies.
21. Who can I contact at DHS public affairs for additional information?
News media inquiries about TOPOFF 4 should be directed to the FEMA News Desk at (202) 646-4600 or send an email to FEMA-News-Desk@dhs.gov