Chicago, Seattle Sites of Terror Simulation

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Next month, imaginary terrorists will pretend to release killer microbes in the Chicago area, leaving thousands of fictional people dead.

This scenario is expected to play out in what officials are calling the largest-ever terrorism drill in the United States, the Chicago Tribune reports.

The so-called “Topoff 2” exercise will test top officials in federal, state and local governments in the midst of attacks on northeast Illinois and the Seattle area. “It is designed to test the nation’s ability to respond to multisite, multihazard terrorist events that could occur throughout the country,” said Thomas Mefferd, director of DuPage County’s Office of Emergency Management.

The exercise comes three years after the first Topoff drill, in which there was a feigned release of pneumonic plague in the Denver Performing Arts Center and six days of imagined antibiotics shortages, civil unrest and hundreds of deaths.

The new drill, scheduled for the week of May 11, is being led by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the State Department. An element of surprise will be central to the drill’s success, officials say, so most details are being withheld for now. Many players have been kept in the dark. In Seattle, the detonation of a mock radioactive “dirty bomb” will be announced the same week, said Eric Holdeman of the King County (Wash.) Office of Emergency Management.

The drill is coming as some health departments are facing financial difficulties in part because of such responsibilities as handling bioterrorism. Holdeman said about $5 million has been approved nationwide for the drill.

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