Silent Thunder Tabletop Exercises

The 2011 National Strategy for Counterterrorism states that the danger of nuclear terrorism is the greatest threat to global security, and affirms preventing terrorist acquisition of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) as an overarching U.S. counterterrorism goal. The DOE/NNSA Office of Counterterrorism Policy and Cooperation actively works to address this threat, and to implement the National Nuclear Security Administration’s strategic goal to reduce global nuclear dangers.

The Office of Counterterrorism Policy and Cooperation helps reduce terrorism risks associated with nuclear materials, facilities, or WMD-related materials by strengthening nuclear counterterrorism capabilities and policies domestically and overseas. The office is part of the broader Office of Counterterrorism and Counterproliferation mission to provide innovative technical solutions to urgent counterterrorism and national security problems and to supply unique technical expertise to the U.S. Government counterterrorism community.

Additionally, this office:

  • Implements nuclear counterterrorism dialogues and technical exchanges with key foreign partners and supports multilateral nuclear counterterrorism efforts.
  • Designs, produces, and conducts domestic WMD counterterrorism tabletop exercises and supports related National preparedness and resilience objectives.

Cooperating Internationally to Reduce Nuclear Terrorism Risks

Recognizing that a nuclear terror event anywhere in the world would be catastrophic, the DOE/NNSA Office of Counterterrorism Policy and Cooperation works with advanced, civil nuclear fuel cycle countries to address shared nuclear terrorism concerns and to jointly reduce associated risks. The Office of Counterterrorism Policy and Cooperation leads mutually-beneficial, interagency nuclear counterterrorism dialogues with these key foreign partners. These partnerships feature bilateral cooperation to prevent acts of nuclear terrorism and sabotage to nuclear facilities or nuclear material transports, through dialogues and technical exchanges designed to advance both sides’ abilities to guard against nuclear terror threats. These dialogues allow for regular discussion among senior, interagency National officials on topics that are critical to reducing terrorist risks associated with civilian nuclear facilities and materials, including technical exchanges on technologies and approaches to secure and protect nuclear facilities and materials; threat discussions and threat simulation and modeling; and the joint conduct or observation of security exercises, training and evaluation. Through these policy discussions and joint activities, both partners’ strengthen nuclear counterterrorism capabilities and reduce nuclear terrorism threats. The Office of Counterterrorism Policy and Cooperation also advances U.S. nuclear counterterrorism objectives through support to multilateral nuclear counterterrorism initiatives, such as the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism and the international Nuclear Security Summits.

Strengthening Domestic WMD Counterterrorism Capabilities

The Office of Counterterrorism Policy and Cooperation’s Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) Counterterrorism Exercise Program designs, produces, and conducts tailor-made tabletop exercises for domestic public and private sector customers with nuclear or radioactive materials or associated nuclear security responsibilities. Designed to build teamwork and an in-depth understanding of the roles and responsibilities of agencies charged with responding to terrorist-related radiological, nuclear, or WMD-related incidents, these unclassified and non-attribution exercises bring together Federal, State, and local decision-makers and first responders. The flagship of these WMD counterterrorism tabletops is the SILENT THUNDER exercise series, which is a three-way partnership between the Office of Counterterrorism Policy and Cooperation, the NNSA Office of Radiological Security, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Weapons of Mass Destruction Countermeasures Directorate. Each day-long SILENT THUNDER exercise is custom designed to the needs, objectives and circumstances of the host organization location. SILENT THUNDER exercises utilize a site-specific, fictional but challenging terrorist scenario that requires players to respond during both a crisis management phase emphasizing actions to detect, deter, and prevent a terrorist WMD incident from occurring, as well as a consequence management phase emphasizing efforts to respond to, mitigate, and recover from a WMD incident. Since its start in 1999, the WMD Counterterrorism Exercise Program has conducted more than 100 different preparedness and resilience exercises across the United States, training over 8,600 Federal, State, and local officials.

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