Last week, terrorists exploded a radioactive bomb across the river from Detroit, blew up Michigan railcars full of deadly chemicals, hijacked a U.S. airliner to Canada, and triggered a lethal outbreak of plague in Mexico, just as another hurricane hit New Orleans, says USA Today. The mayhem was an elaborate drill staged by U.S. and Canadian defense agencies to gauge military, medical, and humanitarian response to multiple threats and natural catastrophes. The exercise, Ardent Sentry, began May 8 and ends Thursday. Imaginary disasters to test U.S. Northern Command (NorthCom) and its air-defense partner, the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD). Participants include more than 5,000 U.S. and Canadian military personnel and civilians, including dozens of federal agencies and state teams.
Trainers inject fake crises each day into NorthCom’s normal operations. Details arrive by e-mails, memos, phone calls, and other communications. The made-up messages are labeled “EXERCISE.” “Organizations that will go unnamed have said to me: ‘Your exercises are unrealistic. All those events would never happen at the same time,’ ” says Gene Pino, a retired Marine colonel who runs the exercise. “But there are two ways to train people: provide them an environment they succeed in, or an environment that pushes them to the breaking point.”