Diablo Shield Exercise Tests Response to Biothreat Incidents

Major Dana Perkins, PhD. Image credit: Sarah E Marshall

Army Reserve Major Dana Perkins, PhD, an assistant professor in the Global Health Division of the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (USU) preventive medicine and biostatistics department, recently traveled to Tblisi, Georgia, to participate in the Defense Threat Reduction Agency’s (DTRA) DIABLO SHIELD training event and field exercise, in collaboration with the FBI Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) directorate.

Perkins served as a subject matter expert during the exercise, April 24-28. DIABLO SHIELD emphasizes countering biological threats, and is part of the U.S. European Command’s (USEUCOM) Diablo Pathways series of engagements that support the development of counter-WMD capabilities in the southeast Europe and Black Sea regions.

Working with DTRA, the FBI, and CBRN Military Advisory Teams (CMATs), Perkins observed and provided feedback on the training, which was previously provided by US-trained Georgian instructors from the Department of Emergency Management of Ministry of Internal Affairs (MoIA), via classroom and hands-on training to other MoIA contingency response teams, primarily SWAT and Hazmat response units.

As part of the exercise, Perkins also played a “bad guy,” setting up a “clandestine bio lab,” in which she made fake anthrax, before the lab was “raided” by SWAT. She also provided a brief demonstration on microbial contamination and human-to-human transmission, and helped answer trainees’ questions about biological threats.

In reality, she said, terrorists might use clandestine labs to produce biological or chemical weapons, or explosives – materials that pose unique risks to first responders, so it’s important to recognize that a warning of an imminent threat or impending bioterrorist attack might not arrive in time to deter it. Therefore, she continued, it’s critical that all countries strengthen their public health systems to be prepared for and to be able to respond to these potential biological incidents, whether natural, deliberate, or accidental.

Perkins is an individual mobilization augmentee as well as a DTRA instructor, regularly teaching the Federal Response to Biological Incidents course. She’s also dually certified by the Board of DTRA’s CMAT as a master and senior CBRN Consequence Management Specialist. She regularly organized workshops in Georgia to strengthen their biodefense and public health system capabilities. Her participation in these efforts reinforces USU’s strategic objective to expand the university’s support for uniformed services and operation forces around the world.

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