As they began a test of their response to a terror attack, authorities in Arizona got a taste Tuesday of the problems they might face if a dirty bomb was detonated in metropolitan Phoenix.
A fictitious “dirty bomb” was detonated near the intersection of the Loop 101 and 202 freeways in Tempe to hypothetically cripple transportation arteries and pose scenarios that authorities could face in man-made and natural disasters. Similar drills were being held in Guam and Portland, Ore.
Among the factors that authorities were facing were the type of threat posed by radiation from the bomb, the prospect of evacuations and the strain that the attack would put on hospitals. Other goals include sharing intelligence and strengthening relationships between people at all levels of government.
“You don’t want people exchanging business cards at a disaster,” said Michael Widomski, a spokesman for the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
While no rank-and-file emergency workers were taking part in the Arizona exercise, top officials were simulating the issues communities will face in real life disasters.
Gov. Janet Napolitano declined to give her impressions of the state’s performance on the first day of the three-day test, but said Arizona authorities have gained experience in other emergency response tests and in responding to the needs of wildfire seasons.
“Overall, I think we have a skilled base here,” Napolitano said.
The practice scenario called for a driver, who was pulled over by and later killed a police officer, to set off the bomb, leading to 50 confirmed deaths, Napolitano said.
Information about the attack was relayed to the State Emergency Operations Center, where a packed room of officials manned phones and computers and looked at maps of the blast area.
Desks in the room were set up to handle specific issues, such as medical needs and environmental analysis. An estimated 2,000 people in Arizona participated in the test, which is the largest terror drill ever in Arizona.
Participants include 40 federal agencies, 26 state agencies, 11 counties and three American Indian tribes.
While not directly affiliated with the terrorism attack drill, 20 seventh-graders were brought to Phoenix Children’s Hospital on Tuesday as part of training that simulated the possible aftermath of a bomb going off near a school bus.
The students from William T. Machan Elementary School, their teacher and school bus driver were each given a paper to wear that listed their injuries.
Doctors quickly reacted, organizing faux patients by the severity of their injuries.
Hospital officials opted to hold their drill at a time when much of the city was focused on preparedness issues. Communications, patient tracking and processing time are among the areas that will be examined.
Most students appeared to be enjoying their role-playing, screaming as if in pain and shedding crocodile tears for treatment.
Like his classmates, 13-year-old Alejandro Aguilar couldn’t help but laugh when pretending to be crying and scared with an abrasion on his left cheek. But he also understood the seriousness behind the drill.
“This will prepare us for the future,” Alejandro said. “If something goes wrong, we know what to do … we’ll be ready for anything.”
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