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Review of the Critical Incident Response Plans of the United States Attorneys’ Offices

Report Number I-2004-001
December 2003


Review of Critical Incident Response Plans

We began this review in December 2002 and completed our work in October 2003. We reviewed the 76 Plans available at EOUSA's and CTS's offices to determine whether USAOs submitted Plans as required, the timeliness of the Plan submissions, and the overall quality and content of the Plans. We assessed the quality and content of the Plans using the "Crisis Incident Checklist For Initial 48 Hours" (48-Hour Checklist) contained in Chapter Two of the CMC Manual. The 48-Hour Checklist contained 10 categories of specific action items compiled by CTS to guide USAOs in developing their Plans for responding to a critical incident. The action items cover every aspect of USAO critical incident response, from notifying the Attorney General or Deputy Attorney General that an incident has occurred to coordinating with state and local emergency response agencies. We identified 48 specific actions contained in the checklist.20

Before we used the 48 specific actions as the basis for evaluating the Plans on file, we examined whether those recommended actions remained valid responses and whether the list as a whole represented a reasonably complete approach to responding to a critical incident. Based on our examination, which consisted of the three steps described below, we verified that the approach to incident response delineated by the 48-Hour Checklist was reasonably complete and valid criteria for evaluating the USAOs' critical incident response plans.

We began our examination of the 48-Hour Checklist by confirming that it was the guidance given to the CMCs on what to include in a critical incident response plan. We confirmed that:

To assess the completeness of the range of actions included on the 48-Hour Checklist, we compared the 48 action items to deficiencies noted in past FBI after-action reports from critical incidents, including:

Our assessment showed that the 48-Hour Checklist includes steps to address the recommendations in the above reports. For example, one of the major findings in the after-action report on Ruby Ridge was that on-scene personnel made mistakes in judgment as a direct result of fatigue because there was no plan to provide relief personnel and adequate rest periods for those conducting the operation. The 48-Hour Checklist clearly states that USAOs should "Plan relief shift[s] of AUSAs with preset period[s] of overlap to facilitate continuity."

The after-action reports on the bombings of the World Trade Center in 1993, and the Oklahoma City Murrah Federal Building in 1995, found problems with evidence collection and preservation. The Checklist addresses those areas by stating that Plans should include how USAOs will:

Finally, during our interviews with 26 CMCs and the Deputy Chief, CTS, we asked their opinions as to whether the 48 actions remained the appropriate actions to take in response to a critical incident and whether the range of actions was reasonably complete. The CMCs we interviewed confirmed that the 48 actions remained valid and reasonably complete, although they indicated that the list could be expanded to reflect changes that have occurred since September 11, 2001.

USAO Critical Incident Response Survey

Because the scope of our review encompassed the implementation of the CMC Program at all 94 USAOs, we conducted a survey of all offices to determine the following:

We received completed surveys from 81 of the 94 USAOs, an 86 percent response rate. The data we collected allowed us to determine how many survey respondents exercised or activated their Plans, how many found their Plans effective, and how many updated their Plans. The comments CMCs provided supplemented the survey responses. A copy of the survey is included in Appendix C.

Interviews with Crisis Management Coordinators

We conducted in-person and telephone interviews with a structured sample of CMCs at 26 USAOs across the United States. Our interview sample included five CMCs each from among USAOs that:

In addition, we interviewed the CMC for the USAO for the District of Columbia because it is frequently involved in responding to critical incidents and handles both federal and local prosecutions.

Interviews with EOUSA, Criminal Division, CTS, and FBI

As part of our review, we interviewed EOUSA, Criminal Division, CTS, and FBI officials who have critical incident response oversight responsibilities. Our interviews with EOUSA included the Assistant Director for Operations; the Assistant Director for Security Programs Staff; the Assistant Director for Evaluation and Review Staff; and the Attorney Advisor for the Office of the Director. At the Criminal Division, we interviewed the Deputy Assistant Attorney General responsible for CTS. At CTS, we interviewed the Chief, Principal Deputy Chief, Deputy Chief, and six of the eight Anti-Terrorism Task Force Regional Coordinators. At the FBI, we interviewed the SAC, the Assistant SAC, the Unit Chief, and the Supervisory Special Agent of the CIRG Crisis Management Unit.

Review of Background Information

We reviewed the Department's Crisis Management Plan (DOJ Order 1900.6A), December 12, 1988; Attorney Critical Incident Response Group (ACIRG) Decision Memorandum, January 11, 1996; Critical Incident Response Plan Decision Memorandum, May 23, 1996; and the Attorney General's speech to CMCs on June 17, 1997. We reviewed training materials for the 1997 CMC National Training Conference held in Arlington, Virginia, and the 1999 conference held at the National Advocacy Center in Columbia, South Carolina. We reviewed the Status of USAOs' Preparedness to Address Critical Incidents memorandum, October 21, 1999; EOUSA's request to review Crisis Response and Disaster Recovery Response Plans memorandum, October 15, 2001, and the corresponding USAO responses; DOJ Fiscal Year (FY) 2001-2006 Strategic Plan, November 2001; DOJ FY 2001 Performance Plan, February 2000; DOJ FY 2002 Performance Report, FY 2003 Revised Final Performance Plan, FY 2004 Performance Plan, February 28, 2003; and other appropriate documents. Additionally, we consulted books and articles on critical incident response practice and theory.

Critical Incident Exercise Observation

We also observed a weapons of mass destruction exercise, "Operation Furies," in Alexandria, Virginia, conducted on February 8, 2003. Operation Furies was a full-scale critical incident response exercise involving more than 400 rescue workers, law enforcement officers, and military personnel, along with volunteer role players from the surrounding residential area and the USAO for the Eastern District of Virginia.


  1. See Appendix A for a list of the 48 action items.

  2. The critical nature of evidence management related to the Oklahoma City bombing came to the forefront again, long after the actual incident, when on May 11, 2001, the Department announced that it would postpone the execution of Timothy McVeigh, after confirming the existence of approximately 3,100 pages of previously undisclosed evidence.