EPA at 50: EPA’s Homeland Security is an Integral Part of our National Security
WASHINGTON (September 9, 2020) — As part of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) 50th anniversary celebration, this week, the agency is highlighting the history and progress made on EPA’s emergency response and homeland security efforts. Following the events of September 11, 2001, in which EPA played an active role in the initial response and cleanup efforts, the United States implemented a new national approach to response and implementation of the Incident Command System, including the creation of the Office of Homeland Security (OHS) within EPA’s Office of the Administrator. EPA continues to remain prepared to respond to modern threats to our nation’s security.
“The magnitude of the Sept. 11 disaster as well as the anthrax attacks on Capitol Hill caused EPA to improve our emergency response program to better prepare for the possibility of deliberate attacks,” said EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler. “Emergency response can always be improved, but EPA and the broader Homeland Security community have improved its ability to react and respond to potential attacks today than in the past.”
“The events of September 11th changed the course of American history forever,” said Associate Administrator Ted Stanich. “The magnitude of the disaster caused EPA to reevaluate our processes and adapt our emergency response program to better prepare for the possibility of deliberate attacks.”
As part of the recognition of the need for preparedness for deliberate attacks, the National Criminal Enforcement Response Team (NCERT) was created to support the agency’s emergency responses and the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) with potential weapons of mass destruction (WMD) attacks. NCERT supported the FBI response to the anthrax attacks on Capitol Hill, as well as the Ricin incident. Its role has since expanded to support the agency’s emergency response activities following major hurricanes.
In 2001, anthrax attacks in Washington, D.C. created widespread fear and uncertainty. EPA led efforts in testing surfaces and air within contaminated buildings for the presence of anthrax and ultimately decontaminated the facilities so that they could be reopened. This biological attack was the first of its kind in the country, and no cleanup technology existed at the time to decontaminate on the scale necessary to reopen the U.S. Congressional office buildings. EPA pooled its experience and resources with existing military research to develop and implement a successful cleanup. The aftermath and cleanup activities also led to a new focus on decontamination and waste disposal, as well as the development of National Decontamination Team. The 2003 Ricin incident proved even more the need for such a cadre of national subject matter experts.
EPA has learned from past events and has increased its ability to respond to emerging threats. For example, the agency has established the Environmental Response Laboratory Network (ERLN) as a national network of laboratories that can be ramped up as needed to support large scale environmental responses. With the threat of a chemical, biological, and radiological attack to the United States becoming more complex, the need for accurate, timely environmental testing capabilities becomes even more crucial. As part of this national network, EPA has mobile laboratory assets that are designed to detect chemical warfare agents and toxic industrial chemicals in environmental samples. These mobile laboratory units may be deployed to terrorist attacks, natural disaster sites, Superfund sites or exercises, and to perform environmental analysis at the request of EPA’s regional offices.
In the years after 9/11, the agency created the OHS within the Office of the Administrator to coordinate national and homeland security policy development and an intelligence team to operate a National Intelligence Program, which includes EPA mission support, counterintelligence and insider threats. The agency works with the FBI on counter-WMD initiatives, as well as with the National Guard and state response teams on pre-deployments for large events such as national political conventions and major sports events. EPA also supports partners through the deployment of Special Teams. EPA’s Special Teams include:
- Environmental Response Team (ERT): is a group of EPA technical experts who provide around-the-clock assistance at the scene of hazardous substance releases. ERT offers expertise in such areas as treatment, biology, chemistry, hydrology, geology, and engineering.
- Radiological Emergency Response Team (RERT): is a specialized unit that responds to emergencies requiring the cleanup of radioactive substances. RERT provides onsite and lab-based radiation risk monitoring services.
- Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear Consequence Management Advisory Division (CBRN CMAD): provides scientific support and technical expertise for decontamination of buildings; building contents; public infrastructure; agriculture; and associated environmental media. CMAD provides specialized expertise such as biochemistry, microbiology and medicine, health physics, toxicology, HVAC engineering, and industrial hygiene.
- National Criminal Enforcement Response Team (NCERT): supports environmental crime investigations involving chemical, biological, or radiological releases to the environment. NCERT’s specially trained Law Enforcement Officers collect forensic evidence within contaminated zones; serve as law enforcement liaisons with other law enforcement agencies; and provide protective escorts to EPA’s on-scene coordinators, contractors and other EPA Special Teams during national emergencies.
Additionally, EPA conducts research on decontamination strategies for biological agents, contaminant detection, and more efforts to enhance homeland security.
National security and homeland security have become inextricably linked. National preparedness is achieved by strengthening the security and resilience of the United States through systematic preparation for the threats that pose the greatest risk to the security of the Nation, including acts of terrorism, cyber-attacks, pandemics, and catastrophic natural disasters. Over time, the scope of threats to be prepared for has expanded, which requires an integrated, whole-of-Agency approach to preparedness. EPA is building and improving the capabilities necessary to prevent, protect against, mitigate the effects of, respond to, and recover from those threats that pose the greatest risk to our security in 2020 and beyond.
This week, as our nation observes the 19th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, we recognize and honor the many Americans, including first responders, who tragically lost their lives.
For more information on EPA’s emergency response program, visit https://www.epa.gov/emergency-response .
For more information on EPA’s homeland security program, visit https://www.epa.gov/homeland-security .
For more information on EPA’s homeland security research program, visit https://www.epa.gov/homeland-security-research .
For more on EPA’s 50th Anniversary and how the agency is protecting America’s waters, land and air, visit https://www.epa.gov/50, or follow the agency on social media using #EPAat50.