The Phoenix area will be a focus next week of the largest terrorism drill ever conducted, testing not Arizona’s disaster readiness, communications network and evolving plans to secure the Super Bowl next year, reports the Arizona Republic. The TOPOFF drill, fourth in a series, takes on added significance because it is the first since Hurricane Katrina in 2005 exposed deep flaws in the government’s response to catastrophes and its handling of mass evacuations. Oregon, Guam and Washington, D.C., also will take part in TOPOFF.
Called TOPOFF because it involves top government officials, the drill is designed to test for holes in state and national emergency plans. It also aims to determine whether key decision makers follow those plans and can make timely, well-informed judgments about when to evacuate or call in outside help. Typically, terrorism drills reveal that agencies cannot properly communicate with one another. TOPOFF, which runs all next week, will cost Arizona $600,000 and will involve 26 state agencies, 15 cities, 11 counties, three tribes, and 37 private companies. The drill will take place only in conference rooms, on plasma screens, over telephones and radios and in the imaginations of the thousands of participants. Officials will be reacting to three simultaneous, simulated “dirty bomb” explosions that spew radioactive waste over a large area.