2002 Safety, Security and International Affairs

Richard Meehan and Kerry Thomas

Protected Americans from the post-September 11 threat of radiological terrorism.

September 11 was chilling proof of the ability of terrorists to wreak massive destruction without firing a single shot. In the aftermath, an array of horrific scenarios was transformed from mere theories to potentially imminent threats. Among them: the specter of an attack with a radiological weapon, such as a “dirty bomb,” created from readily available radioactive materials and combined with conventional explosives to spread both contamination and panic.

Emergency responders located in the nation’s major metropolitan areas did not possess the resources necessary to rapidly detect and respond to these weapons of terror. Richard Meehan of the Department of Energy and Kerry Thomas of the Department of Justice, in consultation with Dr. Michael Gresalfi of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, acted to protect America’s urban centers from this harrowing threat. The strategies they devised proved to be innovative, cost-effective, and smart.

The result of their collaboration was the Homeland Defense Equipment Reuse (HDER) Program, designed to secure and transfer more than 2,500 sets of excess Energy Department radiological detection instrumentations on an annual basis to the emergency responder communities, beginning this year.

The institutionalization of HDER was a shining example of entrepreneurial initiative. Meehan and Thomas gained the support of agency senior mangers and shepherded the interagency agreement through the individual approval chains. They then secured equipment needed by emergency responder agencies nationwide that included contributions from organizations with excess gear.

The work of Meehan and Thomas and their team makes for a compelling case study in the effectiveness of real collaboration among agencies, and the joint development of creative and timely solutions. Their team’s ability to organize the diverse objectives of individual agency divisions into an effective national program, while addressing the threat of radiological terrorism nationwide at an extremely low cost, speaks volumes about the way a little teamwork can go a long way.