This summer, the FBI hosted the annual Titan Shield training exercise series, an interagency effort designed to coordinate roles and responsibilities in case of a weapons of mass destruction (WMD) terrorist attack.
During the two-day exercise, 23 separate agencies gathered at FBI Headquarters, bringing together the investigative, intelligence, technical, public health, counterterrorism, and consequence management communities to work through a fictional scenario in real-time.
“The Titan Shield exercise offers a unique opportunity for various components of the U.S. government to work together,” said FBI Supervisory Special Agent Santos R. DeLeón of the WMD Directorate Strategic Partnership Unit that helped plan the event. “It is especially valuable since no federal agency can address all the implications of a WMD terrorist attack. For instance, while the FBI addresses attribution of the attack and prosecution of terrorists, other agencies deal with health services, disaster relief, critical infrastructure protection, and other components.”
Titan Shield participants are members of the Weapons of Mass Destruction Strategic Group (WMDSG), a crisis action team led by the FBI that brings federal agencies together to support information exchange and to deconflict WMD counterterrorism and law enforcement operations.
The FBI, along with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Countering WMD Office, led this year’s Titan Shield, developing the scenario and timeline of events, reviewing exercise objectives, organizing logistics and tools, and debriefing and evaluating the results at the exercise’s conclusion. The in-depth training requires a year-long planning cycle with interagency stakeholders who meet several times throughout the year to provide input. Each iteration of the exercise focuses on one or more WMD modalities—either chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear—but the scenario always involves terrorism.
“Over the past four years, the FBI Titan Shield exercise has been the principal mechanism to examine and validate the planning, collaboration, and decisive actions necessary at the strategic and tactical levels,” said, Sean Hearns, training branch chief, Preparedness Division, Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction Office, U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
“The FBI WMDSG provides a structure to assess residual risk, while prioritizing federal interagency response capabilities,” he continued. “It is through this enhanced process that the WMDSG equips senior leaders with critical information to make informed decisions during a potential WMD crisis. Through Titan Shield, the Department of Homeland Security has enhanced its networks and fostered the relationships necessary to shape preparedness and response activities.”
This year’s Titan Shield scenario presented a terrorist cell that stole radiological material and smuggled it into the United States with the intent to carry out attacks against sports stadiums using drones. During the exercise, WMDSG developed threat profiles and evaluated courses of action amid events rapidly unfolding in real-time.
Participants addressed various questions such as: What are the properties of the radioactive material and its effects on people and their surroundings? Which groups are best trained and equipped to appropriately respond? Do people need to be evacuated?
“It is difficult to overstate the importance of what we are all gathered for this week,” said FBI Deputy Director Paul Abbate, who kicked off the training exercise. “If the United States was to encounter a complex WMD threat or incident, the safety of the nation would rest on our shoulders. Titan Shield presents an invaluable opportunity for all of us to practice our roles and responsibilities in response to such a threat.”
Streamlining communications between senior decision makers, as well as outreach to foreign, state, local, tribal, and territorial officials, were additional factors WMDSG needed to consider. They also looked at strategies for crafting public messaging and determining how to disseminate information.
At the conclusion of the exercise series, participants debriefed on what worked best and how they could improve future trainings.
“Titan Shield helps us find ways to build on our successes and lessons learned to improve our coordination effectiveness and to become even more connected across all of our departments and agencies,” said Abbate. “The collaboration made possible by the exercise is a testament to the resilience of our partnerships and to our shared commitment to carrying out our responsibilities to the American people.”