National Security Crisis Invitational: "We've Got a World to Save"

July 30, 2013 — What did it look like when teams from law schools across the country joined Georgetown Law students to confront simulated catastrophes at the first-ever National Security Crisis Invitational?

Like barely controlled chaos. But fun. 

Students played the roles of federal, state and local officials confronting a nuclear reactor meltdown, a blackout in California and the imminent destruction of Los Angeles.

New York University, Syracuse, George Washington, University of Texas, American and University of Virginia law schools all sent students to the invitational, an exercise designed by Professor Laura Donohue, Visiting Professor Dakota Rudesill, Adjunct Professor Alan Cohn and many volunteers.

Even before the simulation began, students in the Federal Legislative and Administrative Clinic began drafting “legislation” in connection with the exercise. The clinic's student lawyers role-played Congress, while teams from Georgetown and other law schools role-played senior officials at executive branch agencies concerned with national security. 

As events grew more dire by the hour, participants responded to storms of e-mails and press releases, worked together to glean information, and made use of the mock “Video News Network” with “breaking news” on screens set up around the Law Center. 

Students often encountered roadblocks. For instance, those wishing to consult with the president — played by Dean William M. Treanor — might be told, sorry, not at the moment. “We’ve got a world to save,” Treanor said. 

And legislators had to fight for their constituents' rights. “We will not let the administration get away with this extreme violation of constitutional rights,” vowed a “Republican senator” from Montana, protesting a U.S. citizen who wasn’t allowed to board a plane in Hong Kong because she was infected with bird flu.

Meanwhile, at the “National Security Council” meeting, students were not yet sure whether the blackout and nuclear reactor meltdown were part of a cyberattack and, if so, what they could legally do about it. They also had to deal with the president, who said, “I want answers, legal authority, and I want it right away.”

In short order, though, the students had the relevant provisions of the Stafford Act and the Insurrection Act on their computer screens, and by 3 p.m. the world — to say nothing of Los Angeles — was saved.

Chief Judge James A. Baker of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces, Drexel University law professor Harvey Rishikof and former Department of Justice attorney David Kris lent their feedback to the day’s events.  

Baker said that students “evolved as national security lawyers” during the exercise. Which was good. “The lawyer who gets in front of the president of the United States … when the president is trying to save lives has to be a brave lawyer and a correct lawyer,” Baker said.