The Chicago area’s emergency response system showed signs of strain yesterday as a weeklong, $16 million terrorism drill ended with a simulated building collapse, plane crash, mass casualties from a mock plague attack and other fake calamities, the Chicago Tribune says.
After touring terror drill sites in Wheaton and Chicago, Homeland Security Department Secretary Tom Ridge said the area weathered the nation’s largest terrorism drill relatively well. He said lessons learned here will make other U.S. cities safer.
But some emergency crews were acting like students with final-exam jitters. It was most visible in Bedford Park, where emergency crews from five Illinois counties responded to two imaginary incidents. In a simulated building collapse, six volunteers climbed into tunnels butt weren’t “rescued” for five hours. “They know it’s a drill,” said Palatine Fire Lt. Steve Glum. “The urgency is not there,”
In the last phase of the exercise, nearly 100 agents stormed a six-story warehouse-like building last night to capture the “terrorists” who simulated the release of pneumonic plague into the Chicago area.
In Seattle, where the other part of the TopOff2 exercise was staged, the Seattle Times said some critics questioned its value because it was so heavily scripted. For weeks, emergency responders have known when and where a mock radioactive “dirty bomb” would be detonated. In reality a bomb blast would come as much more of a surprise.
One critic said the worst damage might come in the weeks after an attack. “TopOff2 doesn’t address the longer-term issues. A dirty bomb is not really a weapon that will kill a lot of people. It is primarily a weapon of psychological and economic damage,” said Jaime Yassif of the Federation of American Scientists in Washington, D.C.