Canceled Las Vegas attack simulation might signal shift

A mock dirty bomb terrorist attack exercise in Las Vegas has been canceled by the Obama administration at Sen. Harry Reid's request, possibly signalling a shift in how the nation plans for terror attacks.

Some experts have said that changing the test exercise methods to secret surprise tests is a better method of preparing for attacks.

"The tendency right now is to be more focused on biological events as opposed to manmade disasters, but we can't ignore the fact that there are still bad guys with evil intent doing bad things that could involve radiation and nuclear," Craig Vanderwagen, former assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response in the Department of Health and Human Services, told "The impact on our society of such an event would be huge – the idea of not being able to use New York City for a generation if we had that kind of exposure."

Sen. Reid requested last year that the simulated attack "in the heart of the city would unacceptably harm the Southern Nevadan economy," reports. The state, Reid said, is already facing a poor economy and would be further harmed by the public relations hit a simulated attack on the Strip would bring.

The scheduled Las Vegas National Level Exercise 2010, which involves 10,000 responders, was canceled last year, leaving the responders without a practice field.

Experts within the nation's emergency preparedness ranks, according to, say the cancellation might signal a shift from large-scale "open book" tests, which were a hallmark of the Bush administration, and towards "no-notice" or secretly planned tests. The no-notice tests would require emergency managers into unexpected scenarios for which they haven't planned.

"There is a school of thought that says, 'Let's do some no-notice testing and see what we've got'" Vanderwagen said. "And if you judge by the intensity by which the president and the White House have directed reviews on a lot of these activities, [no-notice] tests are within the realm of possibility."