Analysis of Department of Defense Plans and Responses to Three Potential Anthrax Incidents in March 2005: Executive Summary
Apr 6, 2006
From March 14 to 18, 2005, potential anthrax-related incidents occurred at three Department of Defense (DoD) mail facilities in northern Virginia and Washington, D.C.: the Pentagon Remote Delivery Facility (RDF), the TRICARE Management Activity (TMA) suite in the Skyline Towers complex, and the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) RDF. DoD, along with several local and federal response agencies, responded to the incidents. Although further tests and analyses determined that no anthrax was present, the incidents provided an invaluable opportunity for learning, because they presented incident managers with significantly different scenarios and elicited three very different responses.
DoD asked the RAND Corporation to examine the responses to and management of the incidents and to make recommendations for future improvement. Drawing on national standards and guidelines, RAND researchers analyzed existing plans and documented actions related to each incident to draw conclusions and make recommendations at both the facility-specific level and the systemic, overarching level.
The RAND team identified areas where plans and actions were aligned and responses seemed appropriate, but also some areas where plans and actions were not aligned with national standards and guidelines. For the latter, much of the researchers' critique reflects the fact that DoD has not fully adopted the National Response Plan (NRP) and National Incident Management System (NIMS) framework for incident management, command, coordination, and control that the incident response community put in place following the 9/11 attacks. While DoD has invested a significant amount of effort in planning for terrorism, it had not defined certain roles and responsibilities called for by NRP and NIMS when the incidents occurred, and senior decisionmakers were not trained in their duties under this system. This forced DoD managers and senior leaders to respond with ad hoc decisions and actions.
As a result, RAND recommends that DoD
While it could be argued that DoD officials made good decisions under the circumstances, there is little doubt that if a well-rehearsed, NRP- and NIMS-compliant plan had been in place, it would have produced much better results.