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  4. DNDO Director Warren Stern testifies before the House Committee on Homeland Security Subcommittee titled, "The Last Line of Defense: Federal, State, and Local Efforts to Prevent Nuclear and Radiological Terrorism within the United States."

DNDO Director Warren Stern, before the House Committee on Homeland Security, Subcommittee on Cybersecurity, Infrastructure Protection, and Security Technologies, "The Last Line of Defense: Federal, State, and Local Efforts to Prevent Nuclear and Radiological Terrorism within the United States."

Release Date: July 25, 2011

Cannon House Office Building


Good afternoon Chairman Lungren, Ranking Member Clarke, and distinguished Members of the Subcommittee. As Director of the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) Domestic Nuclear Detection Office (DNDO), I am pleased to testify today with distinguished colleagues to discuss nuclear detection. Over the past year, DNDO has made great strides in working with our partners and coordinating development of a global nuclear detection architecture (GNDA). I will also talk about the challenges we face at DNDO and our path forward for enhancing and implementing the architecture domestically.

With assistance and participation from a variety of U.S. government (USG) departments and agencies, DNDO synchronizes and integrates interagency efforts to develop technical nuclear detection capabilities, measure detector system performance, ensure effective response to detection alarms, advance and integrate nuclear forensics efforts, and conduct transformational research and development for advanced detection technologies. Countering nuclear terrorism is a whole-of-government challenge, and DNDO works with federal, state, local, tribal, international, and private sector partners to fulfill this mission.

Working with partners from across the Administration, including the Departments of Energy (DOE), State (DOS), Defense (DOD), Justice (DOJ), the Intelligence Community (IC), and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), DNDO also coordinates the development of GNDA.

GNDA Strategic Plan and Joint Interagency Annual Review

In December 2010, DNDO delivered the GNDA Strategic Plan to Congress. This interagency product is designed to guide the nation's nuclear terrorism detection capacity and capability development over the next five years.

Recently, DNDO submitted the report on the "Global Nuclear Detection Architecture Joint Annual Interagency Review 2011" (2011 GNDA Annual Report) to Congress. The 2011 report includes information about the multiple USG programs that collectively seek to prevent nuclear or radiological terrorism against the United States by means of detection, analysis, and reporting on nuclear or radiological materials out of regulatory control1. This report fulfills a requirement of Section 1907 of the Homeland Security Act of 2002 (6 U.S.C. 101 et seq.) as added by Section 1103 of the "Implementing Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007" (P.L. 110-53), which mandates a Joint Annual Interagency Review of the GNDA. The report was jointly prepared by interagency partners including DOD, DOS, DOE, and DOJ, the Office of Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), and the NRC.

The Annual Report has enhancements in terms of structure and content to provide additional insight into the development of the GNDA as well as more analytical rigor. The revised definition of the GNDA and the roles and responsibilities specified for each department or agency in the GNDA Strategic Plan are reflected in this year's report. Further, this report reflects a more thorough analysis and review of the architecture. The report is better focused and is based on the GNDA boundaries defined in the strategic plan. The Annual Report contains extensive details and, for the first time, includes recommendations that highlight areas where there currently are opportunities to strengthen the GNDA.

I envision both the Strategic Plan and the Annual Report as part of a series of projects that help to define the GNDA. The Strategic Plan established the USG definition of the GNDA and established a framework for nuclear detection efforts. In the Annual Report, departments and agencies were asked to specifically report on the performance goals identified in the GNDA Strategic Plan. Building upon these foundational documents and internalizing the recommendations will pave the way for our continued implementation of the architecture.

The Domestic Architecture

DNDO is responsible for coordinating the GNDA and implementing, by working with operational partners, the domestic portion of the GNDA.

Ongoing work on the GNDA emphasizes mobile or agile detection components, which will increase our capability to respond to escalated threat levels by focusing detection assets on effective interdiction. The architecture must account for physical and technical limitation in order to achieve the best strategies, systems, and operations for nuclear detection. We will use existing capabilities and a variety of operations and assets at the federal, state, local, and tribal levels to surge our radiological and nuclear detection abilities in a coordinated fashion in response to suspected threats. We have many programs, assets, and capabilities that contribute to surge-related, radiological and nuclear detection response activities, and we must work to enhance coordination and implementation mechanisms to ensure that we make the best use of all available personnel, equipment, and knowledge. A more-flexible architecture will strategically bring together the assets and capabilities for detection and search operations into a unified effort for the domestic prevention of radiological and nuclear terrorism.

Ports of Entry

Our current architecture reflects a layered defense with an emphasis on static systems. DHS has made considerable progress at the border to provide comprehensive radiation detection capabilities with the majority of resources concentrated at ports of entry (POEs). The Department has focused on these authorized pathways at POEs, underscored by Section 121 of the SAFE Port Act, which requires that "all containers entering the United States through the 22 ports through which the greatest volume of containers enter the United States by vessel shall be scanned for radiation." A key consideration is the need to effectively detect threats without impeding the flow of commerce across the border.

When DNDO was founded in 2005, there were a total of 552 radiation portal monitors (RPMs) at our land and seaports of entry. Today, there are a total of 1,462 RPMs. Our ongoing work with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to facilitate container security has resulted in the scanning of over 99 percent of all incoming containerized cargo for radiological and nuclear threats at our land and seaports of entry. As this work has matured over the last few years, DNDO has shifted its focus to place a greater emphasis on our land borders between POEs, as well as maritime and air pathways, and all pathways within our borders.

Advanced Spectroscopic Portal (ASP)

The ASP Program was established in 2004 to improve radiation and nuclear detection capabilities at our seaports and land border crossings and to address technical deficiencies in the existing radiation portal program. Over the years, there have been many challenges to the ASP program. In February 2010, the then Acting Director of DNDO briefed Congress that we were limiting consideration of certification of the ASP program to secondary scanning rather than primary scanning due to technical challenges and cost.

Since then, there have been several important developments. The most recent field validation revealed that the original design specification for ASP, jointly developed by DNDO and CBP in 2007, does not adequately reflect the operational needs in the field, particularly truck speeds in secondary inspection. In addition, there are now competing commercially-available portal radiation detection systems that were not on the market when the ASP program began.

In order to most effectively strengthen radiological and nuclear detection capabilities, DHS has concluded that the best course of action is to not seek certification of the ASP system for full deployment in either primary or secondary inspections. At my recommendation and with concurrence from the Department’s Acquisition Review Board, Secretary Napolitano has directed DNDO and CBP to end the ASP program as originally conceived and to instead utilize 13 of the existing ASP systems at select ports of entry to facilitate operational familiarity with the systems and gather data to support a future acquisition program that will include competition from commercially-available alternatives.

Secretary Napolitano has directed DNDO and CBP to work with the Office of Management and Budget and the Appropriations subcommittees to make recommendations on redeploying the requested FY 2012 resources, prioritizing handheld detection and identification systems. CBP will also apply more rigorous concepts of operation for use in secondary inspections with handheld detectors, as recommended by the National Academies of Sciences.

Deploying advanced detection and identification systems that provide security at our ports while facilitating commerce remains an important objective. We will continue to pursue this in the most cost-effective way possible and in the context of the overall nuclear detection architecture. We are confident that this plan will result a better linkage between operations and technology.

Implementing a Domestic Architecture

Beyond the ASP program, DNDO is making significant progress in implementing an operational architecture for threat detection. DNDO has procured thousands of personal radiation detectors (PRDs), radiological isotope identification devices (RIIDs), and backpack detectors for CBP, United States Coast Guard (USCG), Transportation Security Administration (TSA), and state, local, and tribal law enforcement across the country to scan cars, trucks, and other items and conveyances for the presence of radiological and nuclear materials. All TSA Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response (VIPR) teams and USCG teams are now equipped with radiation detection capabilities, including USCG personnel specifically trained to board and search vessels. DNDO has also made radiological and nuclear detection training available to over 15,000 state and local officers and first responders.

We have recently reached an important milestone in the development of the next generation human-portable systems and will be deploying an advanced handheld technology to support CBP, USCG, TSA, and other emergency response officials on the frontlines. Handheld detectors have many applications and are used by nearly all operators, providing radiological and nuclear detection and identification capabilities. Following the success of our advanced handheld, the small area search handheld system, RadSeeker, is scheduled for production and deployment this year. This next-generation handheld uses a novel detection material and is lightweight, enhancing detection capabilities and providing for operational ease of use. Our work will continue to enhance our federal capabilities and build on these efforts so that the pieces are linked together and can respond as needed. The FY 2012 budget includes $20 million to procure human portable radiation detection equipment including next-generation devices that provide enhanced detection capability.

As I have said previously, state and local law enforcement and public safety officials are our operational partners on the frontlines of responding to threats. DNDO has received an increasing number of requests from these partners to assist them in assessing their extant capabilities and operations, which supports our emphasis on implementing the domestic architecture. Accordingly, DNDO will increase the number of engagements with these partners to conduct covert testing.

The President's FY 2012 budget request includes funding for a Radiological and Nuclear Challenge that will be initiated to provide a forum for information sharing among the federal, state, local, and tribal stakeholders, as well as a competition within the radiological and nuclear detection community. We will invite industry to provide product capability demonstrations, which will increase awareness of detection products and how operators use these systems.

The budget request also includes investments for the upgrade of three Mobile Detection Deployment Units (MDDU) systems to a larger equipment set. DNDO maintains five MDDU systems that provide a surge capability that can be readily deployed to support radiological and nuclear detection operations for special events and intelligence-driven searches. The systems offer a radiological and nuclear detection package that can be utilized by a myriad of state and local public safety and federal agencies and provide a force multiplier capability to USG federal assets for special events or in response to threats.

The President's fiscal year 2012 budget request also proposes expanding the Securing the Cities (STC) initiative to one additional urban area, designed to enhance the nation's ability to detect and prevent a radiological or nuclear attack in the highest risk cities, to include additional Urban Areas Security Initiative (UASI) jurisdictions while continuing to support efforts in the New York City region. Expanding this program will provide DNDO assistance to more regional partners for implementing self-supported sustainment of capabilities and real-time sharing of data from fixed, mobile, maritime and human-portable radiation detection systems. Through STC, nearly 11,000 personnel in the region have been trained in radiological and nuclear detection operations and nearly 6,000 pieces of radiological detection equipment have been deployed. In April 2011, DNDO and the New York Police Department (NYPD) collaborated with other STC partners to conduct a very successful, full-scale exercise in the New York City region to assess the ability of STC partners to detect radiological and nuclear materials and deploy personnel, equipment and special units in accordance with established protocols and in response to threat-based intelligence.

To further support state, local and tribal jurisdictions to identify and develop targeted levels of radiological and nuclear detection capability based on risk factors and increased likelihood of encountering illicit material, DNDO has developed a Preventive Radiological and Nuclear Detection (PRND) Capability Development Framework (CDF). The PRND CDF aids state, local, and tribal jurisdictions in identifying their current levels of capability as well as the targeted level of PRND capability that can then be used to support grant applications. The framework was developed by DNDO with the support of federal, state, and local subject matter experts.

Working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), DNDO has finalized Preventive Radiological/Nuclear Detection (PRND) National Incident Management System (NIMS) Resource Type Definitions. This foundational national preparedness guidance supports our state, local, and tribal partners, enabling them to build their own radiological and nuclear detection capabilities. PRND NIMS Resource Typing provides a common definition of detection resources, including teams, equipment, and personnel, to assist them in their planning and operations. This initiative will support the creation of PRND programs and help identify capability gaps, while increasing the effectiveness of interstate mutual aid requests for special events or surge operations.

DNDO's outreach also includes a State and Local Stakeholder Working Group with 25 states and territories meeting quarterly to bring the Nation’s radiological and nuclear detection community together, inform participants on activities within DNDO and the nuclear detection community, and obtain feedback on DNDO’s programs and initiatives. DNDO has conducted nationwide radiological and nuclear detection situational awareness briefings with 52 UASI regions and metropolitan area emergency responder and law enforcement agencies. This spring I took DNDO’s engagement one step further by establishing a state and local Executive Steering Council. In conjunction with our State and Local Stakeholder Working Group meetings, I invited state and local leadership to meet with me personally and discuss strategic issues related to radiological and nuclear detection programs, as well as challenges and areas for future collaboration. The response to this Executive Steering Council was very positive and leaders were able to share details about their efforts and identify issues for partnerships, as well as learn about the full range of DNDO activities that could benefit their jurisdictions. DNDO is particularly interested in not only developing capability through equipment, training, and program assistance, but also making available the best and most reliable information on equipment, practices, and technical expertise.

To address detection issues in the maritime pathway, DNDO has done significant work with federal, state, and local partners. We are currently collaborating with the USCG and CBP Office of Air and Marine to develop small vessel standoff radiation detection capabilities. USCG detailees to DNDO are collaborating with DNDO employees and the Homeland Security Studies & Analysis Institute to determine the best system concept that fits the end user requirements. Through the development of strong collaborative relationships with end users and the use of rigorous acquisition processes, we are creating the conditions to deliver new capabilities to prevent nuclear terrorism.

DNDO has also recently completed the West Coast Maritime Pilot in Puget Sound and San Diego. The pilot was coordinated through each of the regions Area Maritime Security Committees and successfully developed and deployed adaptable small vessel detection capabilities that are able to surge deployed assets when necessary. We are currently in process of designing a maritime-focused program assistance mechanism to assist other port areas in developing similar capabilities.

Technology and Crosscutting Efforts to Support the Architecture

To fulfill its mandate to develop, acquire, and support the deployment of radiological and nuclear detection technologies, DNDO has embarked on ambitious research and development programs. Since its inception, DNDO has initiated more than 250 research and development projects with national laboratory, academic, and industrial partners to advance detection technologies. These research and development projects examine a variety of important areas that contribute to new and improved detection capabilities to better-support our frontline operations.

Years before the recent helium-3 shortage was identified, DNDO was exploring options for better, more cost-effective alternatives for neutron detection. DNDO is currently independently testing eight different alternative technologies for neutron detection at the Nevada National Security Site. These systems reflect advancements in developing neutron detectors that do not use helium-3 gas, which are crucial in mitigating the current world wide helium-3 shortfall. By working with several vendors simultaneously to find a commercial solution to an alternative technology to helium-3 based neutron detectors, DNDO is encouraging competition which will lead to cost reductions, increased availability, and an acceleration of the replacement detectors to the commercial market.

Further out on the horizon, DNDO's research and development programs have identified approximately 14 different technology approaches in the pipeline that could be used as alternatives to helium-3, including those based on boron or lithium. Some of these technologies have been accelerated and have advanced to a point where they can be tested with other, more near-term alternative neutron detection technologies.

Over the years, DNDO's test program has grown and matured. To date, DNDO has conducted more than 50 separate test and evaluation campaigns at over 20 experimental and operational venues. These test campaigns were planned and executed with interagency partners using rigorous, reproducible, peer-reviewed processes. Tested detection systems include pagers, handhelds, portals, backpacks, mobiles, boat- and spreader bar-mounted detectors, and next-generation radiography technologies. The results from DNDO's test campaigns have informed federal, state, local and tribal operational users on the technical and operational performance of radiological and nuclear detection systems, allowing them to select the most suitable equipment and effective concepts of operations to keep the nation safe from nuclear terrorist threats.

Historically, we have focused on developing technology and detection systems to address identified needs. Today, DNDO is transitioning to a new approach to address detection needs, focusing on commercially developed devices, developing government standards, and testing to those standards. Because industry has repeatedly demonstrated the ability to rapidly improve detection technologies, we have an opportunity to shift our approach to one that is more flexible and adaptable and looks to the private sector – as well as other DHS components and other government agencies – to enhance existing products and develop new devices. This technical transition will also include a new approach at the systems level, which defines strategic interfaces at various points in the detector/system architecture, allowing system upgrades without wholesale changes. Utilizing a "commercial first" approach, we intend to leverage the important industry-led innovations and developments.

We also have supported the development, publication and adoption of national consensus standards for radiation detection equipment. Several such standards now exist for use in homeland security. In 2007, DNDO collaborated with the National Institute of Standards and Technology to conduct a review of all national and international consensus standards for preventive radiological and nuclear detection systems. This survey information was used to support the formation of an interagency working group to draft government-unique technical capability standards (TCS) in April 2008. I am very pleased that we are currently finalizing the TCS for handheld systems. We are also coordinating two additional draft standards with the interagency.

The DNDO Graduated Radiological/Nuclear Detector Evaluation and Reporting (GRaDER℠) Program is using available standards to test and evaluate commercially developed systems. GRaDER℠ is a conformity assessment program that provides independent standards compliance information for selected radiation detection equipment. The program has created the infrastructure for voluntary, vendor testing of commercial off-the-shelf radiological/nuclear detection equipment by independent, accredited laboratories against national consensus standards and government-unique TCS. Final test results for our initial GRaDERSM testing are expected this month. We anticipate that the GRaDERSM Evaluated Equipment List – which is supported by the FEMA's guidance for compliance in relation to their grants program – will enable federal, state, local, tribal and territorial agencies to make more-informed radiological/nuclear detector procurement decisions. Since we anticipate further testing facilitated through the GRaDER℠ program will be funded by the technology vendors, the President's FY 2012 budget request includes minimal funding for initiating phase two of the program, which will evaluate systems against government TCS and maintain the GRaDER℠ Evaluated Equipment List. GRaDER℠ supports both DNDO's work with industry, by encouraging commercial development of products that can be tested to published standards, as well as by enhancing our outreach and engagement with state and local partners who benefit from being able to access the verified equipment performance reports.

Beyond our work with DHS Component and state and local partners, DNDO's testing expertise and experience is sought by interagency partners, such as DOE and DOD, and international partners such as the United Kingdom, Canada, Israel, the European Union, and the International Atomic Energy Agency. DNDO has an active partnership with the European Commission's Joint Research Center to conduct the Illicit Trafficking Radioactive Assessment Program+10 (ITRAP+10), an ambitious three-year test program to evaluate nine classes of radiological/nuclear detection systems in U.S. and European test facilities.

Path Forward

Nearly a year into my tenure at DNDO, I feel we have accomplished much and are on track to develop and implement an architecture that will be better-able to address operational detection requirements. Our approach at DNDO is evolving at every level to be more-rigorous while being more responsive to the needs of operators and inclusive of all technologies that may improve capabilities. We are working with the IC including DHS’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis to develop realistic threat scenarios that we can then map to existing and future capabilities that we may need in order to appropriately respond to various situations. This will guide our future development of the GNDA and provide us with a framework for developing metrics that will provide insight into the effectiveness of our assets and capabilities for addressing threats. This work will help us better coordinate and implement a nuclear detection architecture that integrates federal, state, and local efforts.

Chairman Lungren, Ranking Member Clarke, I thank you for this opportunity to discuss the nuclear detection architecture and the progress of DNDO. I am happy to answer any questions the Subcommittee may have.

1The term "out of regulatory control" refers to materials that are being imported, possessed, stored, transported, developed, or used without authorization by the appropriate regulatory authority, either inadvertently or deliberately.

Last Updated: 03/08/2022
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