2003 Safety, Security and International Affairs

Deborah Monette

Helped prepare America prepared for a nuclear, biological, chemical or radiological attack.

Deborah Monette works just a few miles from the gambling capital of the world, but she refuses to leave to chance America’s preparedness for a nuclear, chemical, biological or radiological attack. As the Assistant Manager for Nuclear Security at the National Nuclear Security Administration’s (NNSA) North Las Vegas site office, Monette plays an instrumental role in protecting the nation’s security.

Monette manages a number of high-profile projects at NNSA’ Nevada Test Site. This includes projects responsible for stewardship of the nation’s nuclear weapons stockpile, nuclear test readiness, nonproliferation issues and emergency response programs. In that capacity, she has spearheaded critical counterterrorism initiatives.

In the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks, she led NNSA’s analysis of the potential for a nuclear terrorist attack on U.S. interests at home and abroad. Monette’s study recommended ways to most effectively use both personnel and technology in the event that a weapon of mass destruction is used in an attack on the U.S. “The project speaks to her initiative and innovation,” said NNSA Administrator Linton Brooks.

As a result of that analysis, Monette organized the creation of the National Center for Combating Terrorism at the Nevada Test Site. It is an intensive hands-on realistic training ground where federal, state and local agencies and employees involved in combating terrorism can train for the wars of the future. Kathleen Carlson, NNSA Nevada Test Site office manager and Monette’s supervisor, described the center as “graduate school in weapons of mass destruction training.” It was established to provide a realistic test and evaluation laboratory for “first responders,” such as police or firefighters, who are first at the scene of a disaster. In the year following the September 11 attacks, nearly 1,300 military personnel, police officers, firefighters, medical professions and SWAT team members were trained as first responders at the site.

There is no question that effective preparation can lead to effective responses in the event of catastrophe. To accomplish that, Monette helped direct the consequence management of a radiological attack simulation exercise in Seattle that involved a number of scientists and local, state and federal officials. She worked with them, and key decision makers, to develop ways to respond and work together in the event of a radiological attack. Leaving no scenario to chance, the exercise featured simulated contaminated people and corpses, fish and wildlife, homes and a media station where staged press conferences were held.

As a senior responder with more than 20 years of experience in accident response, search and consequence management, Monette’s experiences were invaluable to the Seattle exercise. “We learned lessons critical to protecting the public and examining the long-term effects such a disaster might have on a major metropolitan area,” Monette said of the attack simulation she helped create and guide. “Our role was to provide advice. Our scientists clearly are the best in the world when it comes to the effects of radiological and nuclear weapons.”

A 30-year federal employee, Monette has served on the front lines for several phases of the lifecycle of nuclear weapons. Starting with the Atomic Energy Commission, she worked to safeguard and secure the nation’s nuclear materials. Later she became active in both the building of the nuclear stockpile in the 1980s and its dismantling in the following decade. Now, she helps the nation prepare itself for a new world where the ability to cause catastrophe lies not only with superpowers, but with unstable rogue states and terrorists as well.

Through it all Monette has shown an unwavering dedication to public service. “She never stops trying to do what’s right for the country,” said her supervisor Kathleen Carlson. “That’s all she cares about.”