The federal government has begun preparing three U.S. cities for large-scale, 10-day terrorism-response exercises scheduled this month.
Beginning sometime between May 7 and May 29, local, state and top level federal authorities will respond to simulated weapons of mass destruction attacks in three cities — Denver, Portsmouth, N.H., and the Washington, D.C.-area.
Denver or Portsmouth will face either a simulated biological or a chemical weapons attack. The D.C. metropolitan area will respond to a radiological attack drill — which could range from simply an exposed container of radioactive material to a small nuclear detonation.
Looking for Realism
The congressionally mandated exercises are intended to examine how well local, state and federal authorities are prepared to respond to and together deal with the consequences of a weapons of mass destruction attack.
“The goal of the exercise is to assess the nation’s crisis consequence management capacity under extraordinarily stressful conditions,” the Department of Justice said in a statement released Thursday.
Specific dates and characteristics of the exercise are being withheld from participants, to make the tests as realistic as possible.
Volunteers and professional actors will play the roles of victims, who will be rescued, diagnosed, decontaminated and treated over the 10-day period. A “virtual news network” will be created that will broadcast on the exercises every hour on the hour.
But the exercises will not be too realistic, authorities say. No weapons or agents will be released and, to minimize the risk of public panic or real-life accidents, emergency responders will not be speeding with lights and sirens blaring to the scenes of attack.
“We’re doing as much as we can by way of outreach through the media to ensure that all of the residents in the jurisdiction or the cities that we’re exercising in know that they’re occurring, knowing that they’re safe from harm,” said Doug Johnson, the Justice Department’s spokesman for the exercises.
Congress has provided $3.5 million for the Denver and Portsmouth exercises, which are called “TOPOFF,” reflecting the participation of senior officials. The exercise in the D.C. area, involving district and Prince Georges County, Md., authorities, is called National Capital Region 2000, or NCR-2000 for short.
All Levels Involved
The three exercises are expected to involve all key personnel who would respond to an attack: federal agency personnel and state and local emergency responders, including police, fire and emergency medical personnel.
Though terrorism response exercises are conducted routinely across the country, “this marks the first time that an exercise of this scope, with the participation of top-level federal, state and local officials, has ever been conducted,” the Justice Department said.
Mayors, city managers, state governors are expected to participate, as are some senior federal officials: Attorney General Janet Reno, Federal Emergency Management Agency Director James Lee Witt, and Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala.
Justice and the FEMA will be the lead federal agencies in the exercise.
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