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Natural Impact Hazard Interagancy Deliberate Planning Exercise After Action Report
Note: The full report is available here (PDF - 3.0 MB):
Future Concepts and Transformation Division (AF/A8XC) hosted a Natural Impact Event
Interagency Planning Exercise, 4 Dec 2008, in Alexandria, Virginia. Twenty Seven Subject Matter
Experts from across US Government, including DOD, DOE, DOS, DHS, NASA, and NSC
participated in a single day tabletop exercise to explore "whole of government" response to an
impending asteroid strike.
The specific scenario involved a mythical asteroid, "2008 Innoculatus." It was a binary asteroid
consisting of a 270m rocky rubble pile projected to strike the Gulf of Guinea and a 50m metallic
companion asteroid projected to strike in the National Capital Region (NCR). The scenario was
selected to maximize exposure to the diversity of threat (variation in size, composition, land/water
strike), stress both national and international notification, and provide useful pre-planning should an
actual effort need to be mounted against the asteroid Apophis when it has a small probability to
pass through a gravitational keyhole in 2029 and perhaps return to strike the Earth seven years
later in 2036.
Players were broken into two teams. The first team focused on disaster response and was told the
asteroid was discovered 72 hrs from impact. The second team focused on deflection/mitigation
was told the asteroid had been discovered seven years from impact, and to design a "strawman"
deflection plan using existing capabilities.
The major insights are summarized below (for an expanded discussion, see section 6):
1.1 The NEO impact scenario is not captured in existing plans
While a number of useful analogs exist, as well as procedures that could be used or adapted, at the
present time they have not been so adapted, and attempts to do so in the moment are likely to be
much less successful than advance preparation.
1.2 The NEO impact scenario should be elevated to higher level exercises with
more senior players
Players suggested that the scenario was mature enough, interesting and compelling enough for
elevation to higher levels of visibility and increased levels of detailed examination. Players
suggested that National Planning Scenarios need to include a NEO impact as one of the scenarios.
Players recommended incorporation of a NEO impact scenario into a number of formal planning
1.3 Proper planning and response to a NEO emergency requires delineation of
organizational responsibilities including lead agency & notification standards.
Players consistently remarked that the complexities and overlapping nature of this contingency
required advance delineation of responsibilities, formalization of the notification process, and
clarification of authorities and chains of command, including authorities for delegation and
supported/supporting relationships. Players thought it was important to think through and
document this prior to any actual NEO emergency.
1.4 Players were not able to achieve consensus on which agency should lead the
NEO deflection/mitigation effort
No obvious consensus emerged on which agency should have lead for a deflection effort.
Expertise is widely distributed across US government agencies. Players held widely divergent
views in terms of organizational equities whose resolution will require a policy decision at a higher
level. In the absence of policy guidance, players felt an actual deflection attempt would likely mirror
the Manhattan Project
1.5 There is a deficit in software tools to support senior decision-making and
strategic communication for disaster response & mitigation for an NEO
None of our command centers to support decision makers have the necessary tools to make quick
assessments. Players expressed a need for a "National Decision Support System" for natural
impact scenarios and events. Such a system would need to tighten up the federated nature of
impact prediction and impact effects prediction, integrating models for impact location and
uncertainty prediction, kinetic effects prediction, plume, and tsunami effects, and feed evacuation
1.6 There are significant effects a NEO impact would generate that are not
adequately captured in existing models.
Players highlighted the fact that current models inadequately address several effects likely to
significantly affect accurate damage / effect estimates. These include the effect of blast plumes on
Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites, electromagnetic effects that could affect electrical power
infrastructure, seismic effects, effect of terrain on blast dissipation and focusing, coupling of airblast
to tsunami response, and atmospheric distribution/dispersion of hazardous materials.
1.7 The public may be aware of an impending NEO impact before senior decisionmakers.
The NEO detection community conducts its work openly using Internet communications and Webbased
datasets, so it is very likely that information on a new discovery of high interest will be
available to the public before NASA can complete adequate verification and validation of potential
impact and provide a news release, or even speed notification to the POTUS and appropriate
1.8 Lead time for evacuation requires decisions be made before best information
States and local authorities require a certain lead time in order to plan and implement evacuation,
and the error ellipse under current capabilities is not likely to adequately constrain the possibilities
to allow effective decisions.
1.9 Public safety and tranquility require that the federal government be able to
rapidly establish a single authoritative voice & tools to present critical
Given the concern of what the public might know before it even gets to leadership, there needs to
be a plan to put forward a single authoritative voice backed up with tools that clearly present
information to support state and local authorities and reduce the chance of panic and counterproductive
1.10 The preferred approach for short-notice NEO deflection was stand-off nuclear
In this scenario, given the short lead time (less than a decade), players chose to go with a solution
they felt was low mass, provided high energy density for deflection, leveraged existing national
capabilities, and had comparatively high technological readiness level (TRL). Some players
suggested a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between NASA, DOE and DOS may be
necessary to preserve the required capabilities and infrastructure to execute the nuclear option.
Note: The full report is available here (PDF - 3.0 MB):