Saturday, May 29, 1999

crews take part in
preparedness drill

By Jaymes K. Song


A cloud of blue smoke spews into the concession area of Aloha Stadium while hundreds of people wait for a football game to begin.

Spectators collapse one by one, apparent victims of a terroristic sarin attack after they breathe in the chemical.

Emergency crews yesterday got their first glimpse of what a mass chemical attack would be like in one of the largest emergency preparedness drills staged in Hawaii.

"Honolulu is at no greater risk than any other city," said Lt. Col. William Wheelehan, an Army spokesman for the Pentagon.

But Honolulu might be an attractive target for terrorists because of its location, being the state capital, the millions of tourists from around the world and because an attack would draw global attention, Wheelehan said.

Honolulu was the 12th among 120 cities to conduct a drill in the Domestic Preparedness Training Program.

In the exercise named "Island Crisis 99," the 100 victims were all military personnel from local installations. For three hours in the midmorning sun, they acted as if they were contaminated from the highly lethal and odorless chemical sarin, which killed dozens in a 1995 Tokyo subway attack.

"This is a weapon of mass destruction and another example of a catastrophe you have to be prepared for," Wheelehan said.

The victims were rescued by fire crews, put through a series of showers for decontamination and scrubbed down.

They were then transported to Kaiser Hospital in dozens of city and military ambulances.

The exercise involved hundreds of firefighters, medical technicians and police officers.

Dozens of federal, state and city agencies also participated the drill.

The goal was to evaluate Honolulu's capability to respond to an act of chemical terrorism in a public setting, event coordinators said.

City emergency personnel have been receiving training by the Army on responding to terrorist attacks with nuclear, biological or chemical attacks since February 1998.

Fire Capt. Carter Davis, of the hazardous-materials team, said he was pleased with his unit's performance and that the 100 victims they had to decontaminate provided a valuable learning experience.

He was also happy the exercise was successful with no emergency responders "contaminated" or injured, which is always a high priority.

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