AFTAC participates in Prominent Hunt 17-1

Technicians collect samples during Prominent Hunt 17-1, a combined counterterrorism exercise between the United States and Canada April 24-28, 2017.  The exercise collectively tested each nation’s ability to respond to two simulated nuclear post-detonation attacks..  (Photo courtesy of the Department of Homeland Security)

Technicians collect samples during Prominent Hunt 17-1, a combined counterterrorism exercise between the United States and Canada April 24-28, 2017. The exercise collectively tested each nation’s ability to respond to two simulated nuclear post-detonation attacks.. (Photo courtesy of the Department of Homeland Security)

Technicians prepare simulated nuclear debris samples collected during Prominent Hunt 17-1, a combined counterterrorism exercise between the United States and Canada April 24-28, 2017.  The exercise collectively tested each nation’s ability to respond to two simulated nuclear post-detonation attacks..  (Photo courtesy of the Department of Homeland Security)

Technicians prepare simulated nuclear debris samples collected during Prominent Hunt 17-1, a combined counterterrorism exercise between the United States and Canada April 24-28, 2017. The exercise collectively tested each nation’s ability to respond to two simulated nuclear post-detonation attacks.. (Photo courtesy of the Department of Homeland Security)

PATRICK AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- Members of the Air Force Technical Applications Center here participated in Prominent Hunt 17-1, a combined counterterrorism exercise between the governments of the United States and Canada to collectively test each nation’s ability to respond to two simulated nuclear post-detonation attacks.

The exercise took place in Halifax, Nova Scotia April 24-28. One of the goals of the exercise was to enhance U.S. and Canada’s ability to collaborate in the aftermath of a terrorist attack to determine who was responsible.

The exercise began with a hypothetical detonation of an improvised nuclear device – one in New York City and another in Halifax. Participants then practiced their ability to respond to the attack from initial notification of the detonation, deployment to the site, collection of ground debris samples and their capability to transport the radioactive samples to a designated laboratory for nuclear forensics analysis.

AFTAC sent four experts to participate in the exercise – one to New York, two to Canada and one to Tyndall AFB in Panama City, Fla. The Canadian contingent went in support of the ground collection task force, while the Airman at Tyndall deployed to Air Forces Northern A3 directorate as an airborne liaison officer.

Don Absher, a physical scientist with the nuclear treaty monitoring center, was AFTAC’s N.Y. liaison.

“Oftentimes there are exercises within exercises,” said Absher. “For Prominent Hunt, I traveled to New York City to participate in a tabletop exercise called Gotham Shield, which tested the interactions between the National Technical Nuclear Forensics Ground Collection Task Force and consequence management agencies responding to a nuclear explosion. Once that scenario was complete, I relocated to Halifax to serve as a controller for Prominent Hunt, where the GCTF deployed to test their ability to expeditiously deploy and collect nuclear debris evidentiary samples for the FBI or lead federal agency.”

AFTAC routinely participates in national-level exercises to test its global monitoring capability and technical applications expertise when nuclear events occur. “We provide the messages that initially identify the event as having radiologic characteristics, which includes details on the time and specific location of the detonation, and we provide an estimate of the yield of the weapon,” Absher said. “This information is critical not only to law enforcement, but also to our airborne collection operators so they can coordinate sampling missions more accurately.”

Post-detonation fallout samples provide potential evidence to the source of the nuclear device and help officials – in this case U.S. and Canadian – to determine who was responsible for the attack.

In addition to AFTAC’s role, agencies including the Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security, Department of State, the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration and the Federal Bureau of Investigation participated and collaborated with Canada’s Department of National Defence, Canadian Joint Operations Command, Joint Task Force Atlantic, and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

“Our role is to detect and respond to an event that involves radiological material,” said Doris Bruner, AFTAC Directorate of Operations technical advisor. “We conduct assessments on the ground and in the air, and forward the collected samples to our network of labs for analysis. The NTNF mission requires the combined efforts of many different government agencies, both domestic and international, so everyone understands each other’s capabilities and possible limitations. The more we work together, the more efficiently and effectively we can provide rapid answers to the technical forensics questions needed by the FBI and U.S. decision-makers.”