A simulated counter-terrorism exercise is underway in the United States, as authorities
test their readiness for a coordinated attack against the country. The drill
began with detonation of a simulated "dirty bomb" at the port of Los Angeles,
to be followed by other attacks in California and Virginia.
in Los Angeles stage a drill following the simulated explosion of a
VOA Photo - M. O'Sullivan
More than 4,000 people are taking part in the five-day drill on both U.S.
coasts and in two Canadian provinces.
Bill Ford is a spokesman for Northcom and NORAD, the joint military commands
that are sponsoring the drill. "The simulation is that the terrorist group
has synchronized this to overwhelm the country, to send the country into shock.
There'll be some flights that are coming in from Alaska to Oregon. There will
also be an aircraft that will be coming in from Ireland to Ottawa, and depending
on the correct response of our own NORAD people, they will either crash into
a significant building in Canada, or they will be shot down," he said.
That will happen later in the five-day exercise.
The simulation started Thursday in Los Angeles with detonation of a so-called "dirty
bomb," a conventional explosive that scatters radioactive material. If the
attack were real, people within two kilometers of the blast would be subject
to fatal levels of radiation, and winds could extend the danger further.
The first symptom for victims, says Mr. Ford, is nausea. "The next thing
would be some lesions and loss of hair. And there are ways you can treat people,
but once they have a massive dose of radioactive exposure, they're going to
die," he said.
The scenario envisions thousands of deaths and tens of thousands of injuries
in the coordinated attacks.
At the Los Angeles port, the exercise began with a military bus carrying
60 to 70 personnel. Battalion Chief Ralph Terrazas of the Los Angeles Fire
Department explains that they were passing a shipping container that exploded. "That's
where the dirty bomb is located. When that goes off, they become patients with
contamination from radiation. Our first responders will be called via the 911
(emergency telephone) system in realistic terms. We will respond in about six
minutes, approximately. That's our average response time. From then on, we'll
have fire companies, ambulance personnel, do reconnaissance and determine what
kind of problem we have," he said.
Helicopters, fire trucks and ambulances reach the scene, as do rescue workers
with protective suits, and oxygen tanks for breathing.
Patients are separated according to the extent of their injuries, explains
fire captain Joe Castro. "We ask everyone that can move to move, and that's
going to identify right off the bat who's ambulatory, who needs help the most,
and who can walk and help themselves," he said.
On the other side of the country, in the East Coast state of Virginia, the
simulation involves coordinated attacks on a cruise ship, bridge and tunnels,
a suburban shopping complex and elementary school.
Officials say the exercise has been in the planning stages for months. In
addition to testing emergency responders, it also assesses intelligence agencies
to see how well they share their information. There may be some surprises in
the drill, however, even for the planners. A so-called "red cell" team will
introduce unexpected elements to the unfolding scenario in coming days.
The drill will also test the ability of dozens of agencies from the local
to federal levels to coordinate their efforts, explains Ellis Stanley, general
manager of the Los Angeles Emergency Preparedness Department. "It is not a
demonstration," he said. "It's not a show. It's to learn, and we're going to
be looking for gaps - are the equipment needs that could help to alleviate
some of the response efforts? Are there procedures that we need to change?
Are there partnerships that we need to reassess? And are there rules that we
actually need to look at - who has responsibility for what? And most importantly,
how do we work together as disparate agencies? "