Vincent Gray's cabinet to attend disaster response seminar

Mayor Vincent Gray wants his department heads to be better prepared in the event of a disaster. He brought his cabinet to the district's homeland security headquarters Friday for a training seminar to learn how to prevent, respond to and recover from a crisis.

The mayor's office says cabinet officials will learn how to prepare for, respond to and recover from both natural and man-made disasters, including acts of terrorism.

The training session was sparked in part by recent natural disasters in the South and by the killing of Osama bin Laden, which sparked fears of retaliatory attacks by al-Qaida.

A devastating tornado, an extreme heat wave and a cyber attack were three the scenarios discussed. Millicent W. West of D.C. Homeland Security and Emergency Management said the seminar was part of the agency’s efforts to improve emergency preparedness leading up to the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

Organizers say they chose to focus on cyber terrorism because it does not usually get the same attention as traditional acts of terrorism using violence. They say cyber attacks can have major, possibly deadly consequences.

“Cyber terrorism is such a threat not just because we rely on tech to do our day-to-day operations but because it does a lot of things that are invisible,” said D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier.

Because computer networks manage electricity, water quality, traffic systems, weapons programs and more, Lanier says cyber terrorism could be devastating.

“We have to remember how we operate manually so that if something like that happens we have back-up ways to do things,” she said.

D.C. police, fire and health officials were all at the seminar, along with more unusual departments like Parks and Recreation and the Office on Aging.

While all department heads were required to attend, Lanier pointed out that those non-traditional responders could offer valuable assistance in an emergency. Parks could provide shelter, and the Office on Aging could direct emergency medical personnel to nursing homes that need medical assistance.

With reporting from the Associated Press and TBD's Mike Conneen.

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