Suffolk County police and federal officials will fan out across the county Thursday in one of two major counterterrorism drills testing their ability to find a nuclear device destined for New York City and determine where it originated.
Police will set up checkpoints using radiation monitors to find low-level samples of radioactive bomb material on the move. The material is likely either plutonium or uranium-235, both of which are used in nuclear bombs. Until detonated, those materials don't produce high amounts of radiation.
At the same time, a special federal nuclear forensic task force relying on theoretical readings of fallout will try to find out the likely source of fissionable material used in an imaginary bomb that would have detonated in the city.
New York City is viewed by law enforcement officials as a major target for nuclear terrorism, which is why the federal Securing the Cities initiative is funding the two exercises, Suffolk's assistant chief of patrol, Stuart Cameron, said. NYPD counterterrorism officials are involved in the exercise as well, spokesman Paul Browne said.
Highly radioactive fallout would, depending on winds, fall on parts of Long Island while the blinding flash of the blast could cause massive traffic accidents on the westbound Long Island Expressway, Cameron said. Long Island would likely be cut off from fuel and food for a period of time, he said.
Members of the public are unlikely to be aware of the activity, although some checkpoint activity may be apparent, Cameron said. Police and other emergency services in the county are using the "Prompt Affect" drill to see how they perform during a bomb blast in the city, he said.
"If you can prepare for the worst-case scenario, you can prepare for all the lesser included events," said Cameron, a recognized law-enforcement expert on nuclear terrorism who is helping plan and run the exercises.
The federal forensic exercise, dubbed "Prominent Hunt," involves field units studying reports of fallout to analyze where the fissionable material originated and the likely terrorists involved, Cameron said.