05 November 2016

NASA, FEMA Hold Asteroid Emergency Planning Exercise

NASA, FEMA Hold Asteroid Emergency Planning Exercise
NASA/JPL press release Nov. 5, 2016

What would we do if we discovered a large asteroid on course to impact
Earth? While highly unlikely, that was the high-consequence scenario
discussed by attendees at an Oct. 25 NASA-FEMA tabletop exercise in El
Segundo, California.

The third in a series of exercises hosted jointly by NASA and FEMA --
the Federal Emergency Management Agency -- the simulation was designed
to strengthen the collaboration between the two agencies, which have
Administration direction to lead the U.S. response. "It's not a matter
of if -- but when -- we will deal with such a situation," said Thomas
Zurbuchen, Associate Administrator for NASA's Science Mission
Directorate in Washington. "But unlike any other time in our history, we
now have the ability to respond to an impact threat through continued
observations, predictions, response planning and mitigation."

The exercise provided a forum for the planetary science community to
show how it would collect, analyze and share data about a hypothetical
asteroid predicted to impact Earth. Emergency managers discussed how
that data would be used to consider some of the unique challenges an
asteroid impact would present-for preparedness, response and public warning.

"It is critical to exercise these kinds of low-probability but
high-consequence disaster scenarios," FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate
said. "By working through our emergency response plans now, we will be
better prepared if and when we need to respond to such an event."

Exercise attendees included representatives from NASA, FEMA, NASA's Jet
Propulsion Laboratory, the Department of Energy's National Laboratories,
the U.S. Air Force, and the California Governor's Office of Emergency

The exercise simulated a possible impact four years from now -- a
fictitious asteroid imagined to have been discovered this fall with a 2
percent probability of impact with Earth on Sept. 20, 2020. The
simulated asteroid was initially estimated to be between 300 and 800
feet (100 and 250 meters) in size, with a possibility of making impact
anywhere along a long swath of Earth, including a narrow band of area
that crossed the entire United States.

In the fictitious scenario, observers continued to track the asteroid
for three months using ground-based telescope observations, and the
probability of impact climbed to 65 percent. Then the next observations
had to wait until four months later, due to the asteroid's position
relative to the sun. Once observations could resume in May of 2017, the
impact probability jumped to 100 percent. By November of 2017, it was
simulated that the predicted impact would occur somewhere in a narrow
band across Southern California or just off the coast in the Pacific Ocean.

While mounting a deflection mission to move the asteroid off its
collision course had been simulated in previous tabletop exercises, this
particular exercise was designed so that the time to impact was too
short for a deflection mission to be feasible -- to pose a great future
challenge to emergency managers faced with a mass evacuation of the
metropolitan Los Angeles area.

Scientists from JPL, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Sandia
National Laboratories, and The Aerospace Corporation presented predicted
impact footprint models, population displacement estimates, information
on infrastructure that would be affected, as well as other data that
could realistically be known at various points throughout the exercise

"The high degree of initial uncertainty coupled with the relatively long
impact warning time made this scenario unique and especially challenging
for emergency managers," said FEMA National Response Coordination Branch
Chief Leviticus A. Lewis. "It's quite different from preparing for an
event with a much shorter timeline, such as a hurricane."

Attendees considered ways to provide accurate, timely and useful
information to the public, while also addressing how to refute rumors
and false information that could emerge in the years leading up to the
hypothetical impact.

"These exercises are invaluable for those of us in the asteroid science
community responsible for engaging with FEMA on this natural hazard,"
said NASA Planetary Defense Officer Lindley Johnson. "We receive
valuable feedback from emergency managers at these exercises about what
information is critical for their decision making, and we take that into
account when we exercise how we would provide information to FEMA about
a predicted impact."

NASA provides expert input to FEMA about the asteroid impact hazard
through the Planetary Defense Coordination Office
<https://www.nasa.gov/planetarydefense>. NASA and FEMA will continue to
conduct asteroid impact exercises and intend to expand participation in
future exercises to include additional representatives from local and
state emergency management agencies and the private sector.

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