Anti-Terror Drill Shows “Severe Gaps” In System

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A sharp explosion in a grungy Seattle warehouse district this week started the biggest homeland-security “war game” ever staged in the U.S. – and underscored the importance of mock exercises in helping the nation gird for any new terror attack, the Christian Science Monitor says.

Some of the lessons learned so far:

• In the wake of a bioterror attack, officials might be tempted to impose quarantines. But drills suggest they’re risky, and can spark civilian violence against authorities.

• A mock smallpox attack helped persuade policymakers that millions of vaccine doses need to be manufactured – and that healthcare workers should be preemptively protected.

• Volunteers are sometimes more crucial to providing a good response than gun-toting national guardsmen. Legions of trained volunteers would be key to distributing medicines after a bio-terror attack.

This week’s federally funded exercise – called TOPOFF2 – is expected to cost $16 million. It involves local and state officials, some 14 federal agencies, the Red Cross, and about 8,500 people. The simulation fictionalizes a two-pronged attack – in Seattle and Chicago – by GLODO, the Group for the Liberation of Orangeland and the Destruction of Others.

The Boston Globe concludes that the exercise “has pointed up severe gaps in the nation’s ability to respond quickly and effectively.” The Globe said that a simulated radiological explosion in Seattle demonstrated the need for better training at the local level, and a mock outbreak of pneumonic plague in Chicago “severely stressed health agencies in diagnosing and treating diseases that could be covertly spread in highly populated areas.”

Today is expected to be the most disruptive day of the exercise, the Chicago Tribune says. There will be plenty of potential traffic slowdowns and strange scenes, including, helicopters buzzing over Chicago, flames and smoke billowing from the tarmac at Midway Airport and hundreds, if not thousands, of people lining up for imaginary inoculations against pretend pneumonic plague at five distribution centers in Chicago and the suburbs.

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