Last springA van arrived at Fort Eustis, Newport News, Virginia’s inspection station. Military police noticed what looked like chemicals inside and that passengers were “displaying signs of illness.” Soon first responders arrived, donned protective gear, and, according to a military press release, searched “CBRNE exposure possible in the vehicle,” using the acronym for chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and high-yield explosives.
That “CBRNE exposure” wasn’t real — it was part of a training exercise. “My biggest takeaway is that all the agencies work well together,” Tim Scott, a lieutenant with the Fort Eustis Fire Department, said at the time, noting that coordination among multiple agencies was essential to ensuring that a similar real-world incident could be handled efficiently and effectively.
However, an exclusive audit by The Intercept of the Army’s internal records shows that a CBRNE incident might have led to disaster.
The audit results, published Just days after the April 2021 exerciseFort Eustis was dismal. Five Army bases were surveyed by investigators to determine if they were ready to handle a CBRNE emergency like one that occurred at Fort Eustis. Chemical weapons accidental or “Dirty bomb” attack. They weren’t in all cases.
“The Army didn’t take the required actions to ensure that installation first responders had the necessary equipment and training to respond to a chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and high-yield explosive (CBRNE) incident at the five installations we reviewed,” according to the document, which was obtained under the Freedom of Information Act. These failings are likely to exist in the Army, which has operations around the world, according to the audit. 1,800 bases, stations, and other locations around the world, including storage facilities for America’s remaining chemical weapons and a research institute that works with lethal pathogens like anthrax and plague.
The audit placed the lion’s share of the blame on the emergency management branch of the headquarters of the Department of the Army for failing to provide “sufficient oversight.” The Army did not provide comment about the audit’s findings prior to publication. “None of us are familiar with the report or its contents so we will need to ask around, which may take some time,” spokesperson Richard Levine told The Intercept.
From September 2019 through December 2020 the audit revealed that the Army had not provided enough respiratory protection to all civilian first responders. Two bases also found that the Army did not ensure that civilian personnel had completed CBRNE readiness training.
The Army did not disclose the names of all five installations in the redacted document, but the audit mentions Kentucky’s Blue Grass Army Depot, where both Chemical weapons and explosive munitionsAre stored at Fort Bliss TexasIt is greater than the state Rhode Island; and Washington state’s Joint Base Lewis-McChord, which has a Population of around 110,000Family members of active-duty troops and civilian employees. Audits revealed that the civilian first responders on these two bases did not use required respirators approved by National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.
Auditors found that the five facilities were short 241 pieces of equipment required for CBRNE response mission, which included hand-held devices. Chemical warfare agents can be detected, Masks for air purifying gas, and hazmat shoes. The investigators also “couldn’t determine the existence of six other items,” including additional chemical agent detectors and decontamination shelters, valued at more than $142,000.
When equipment was located by auditors, large quantities — 89 percent of 440 pieces that were collectively valued at around $1.2 million — were not listed in required documents, leaving the items “susceptible to loss or theft” or the Army in danger of purchasing “unnecessary or duplicate equipment.”
The investigators also found that key “personnel confirmed the lack of clear roles and responsibilities for assessing equipment requirements and documentation” and “weren’t provided specific guidance on determining, fielding, or sustaining” required gear. “These adverse conditions likely exist Armywide,” according to the audit, “and should be corrected.”
The audit’s findings come as the possibility of military CBRNE catastrophes is on the rise. Recently, the Defense Department revealed plans to Build nuclear microreactorsPower remote military bases. An earlier Army attempt to field portable nuclear reactors resultedAn article Explosion and meltingThis is what killed Three military personnelIdaho, 1961
Last year, the Defense Department warned Chemical and biological weapons “threats remain significant and are expanding at an exponentially accelerated pace.” The military also continues to Keep its own chemical weaponsAt the U.S. Army Pueblo Chemical Depot, Colorado and the Blue Grass Army Depot. The U.S. will destroy the last chemical agents from its stockpile, as per the Chemical Weapons Convention(By September 30, 2023.
2019 was a year when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention became aware of safety concerns about inadequate decontamination methods. Research shut down at the Army’s Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases in Fort Detrick, Maryland, where work centers on toxins and germs, including so-called select agents such as the Ebola virus, smallpox, anthrax, plague, and the poison ricin. There was a resumption of work2020
That same year, a fire and “Massive” explosion destroyed the $1.2 billion amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard due to, among many issues, a disorganized federal and civilian response and Navy firefighters reportedly Without the right equipmentTo fight the blaze.