Tuesday, August 13, 2002

Fake victims, rescuers act out
terrorist attack

By Dan Klepal dklepal@enquirer.com
The Cincinnati Enquirer

A girl playing an attack victim laughs and screams under a shower of cold water as firefighters drag her to a decontamination area at Paul Brown Stadium.
(Glenn Hartong photo)
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        The mustard gas, the blisters, the burned skin and the terrorists at Paul Brown Stadium on Monday were fake. The lessons learned were real. More than 25 agencies responded to a simulated biological attack that left about 150 “victims” - painted to the hilt with rouge - in need of decontamination and treatment on the plaza of Hamilton County's biggest building.

        The drill gave the city of Cincinnati's fire, police and SWAT teams a chance to work with the Ohio National Guard's 52nd Weapons of Mass Destruction Civil Support Team, an experienced group of 22 full-time emergency personnel trained in the detection of nuclear, chemical, biological and radiological agents.

        Cincinnati District Chief Edward Dadosky said the experience was invaluable, especially for his unit, which recently purchased new equipment to fight terrorist attacks.

        “Some of that equipment is military in nature,” Mr. Dadosky said. “As far as the chemical detection and monitoring, we learned quite a bit from them. Things like: "You might want to take a sample there, or put a monitor here.' That experience isn't available to us every day.”

        Mr. Dadosky's crew learned the most from the things that didn't go as planned. For example, the 150 victims all had to pass through the decontamination tent, where their clothes and valuables - all potentially contaminated - were taken before they were sprayed with fire hoses to wash away the harmful toxins. Mr. Dadosky said that many of the victims were only doused on one side with the water.

Next to the "body" of John Mangus, firefighters trained in explosive ordinance disposal look for a device that was set off amid the stadium seats.
(Greg Ruffing photo)
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        “We found we needed better control as the victims went through the tent,” Mr. Dadosky said. “Also we had trouble taking and tracking the victims' valuables. ... In a real emergency, you could easily see an argument breaking out.”

        So instead of calling it a day, they called half of the victims back and did the drill again.

        “The second time it worked very well,” Mr. Dadosky said. “I'm confident we're prepared to handle civilian decontamination.”

        A horrifying scenario was written up by fire department commanders and not shared with the emergency personnel responding to the scene. Terrorists released Venezuela equine encephalitis and mustard gas during a charity exhibition football game at the stadium. The encephalitis would make many in attendance sick, but probably not for hours or even days.

        That drill tested how to get the news out to those people exposed so that they wouldn't all go to the same hospital.

        The potentially deadly mustard gas, which blisters the skin, acts more quickly than the virus - in an hour or two - and requires the decontamination treatment.

        But the drill wasn't limited to the stadium. Hamilton County sheriff's deputies in Colerain Township noticed “suspicious activity” that led to the discovery of a chemical lab and the chase of a van that ended in Indian Hill, where a suspected terrorist was found dead.

        It is unclear how much the drill will cost, but it is estimated to reach tens of thousands of dollars.

        “We're doing this to make certain we are prepared,” Cincinnati City Manager Valerie Lemmie said. “The federal government provides money for this training.”

        Also on hand for the drill was a group unique to the Tristate, the Red Cross Medical Assistance Team. The group of volunteer doctors, nurses and paramedics respond to disasters to assess patients, hydrate emergency workers and set up family assistance.

        “This is the first time we've interacted with the military, so it's a tremendous learning experience for us,” said Gary Miller, director of the Red Cross disaster services. “We've got to package the victims and coordinate their transportation to hospitals, so no one hospital is overloaded.”


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