Monday, June 27, 2005

Preparing for terror - Solano county agencies work together for drill

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TRAVIS AFB - The man lay in the field between the two houses, metal shards from a bomb lacerating the back of his bloodied legs.

A blood trail traced his steps from the patio where the injured bodies of his victims lay scattered around the remains of the radioactive dirty bomb he planted to exact vengeance on his boss.

The plastic crackle of gray radiation suits announced the arrival of the police as they moved among the houses, guns drawn, serving as the first eyes on the crime. Not far behind came firefighters in their own radiation suits.

Across the street and walking just behind them, other officers in orange vests checked off on clipboards what was going right and what was going wrong.

The crime and the wounded were all theater. The police and firefighters were all there to run through what to do if such a situation happened - a disgruntled employee with access to radiological material using it as part of a bomb.

The Solano County Office of Emergency Services teamed up with a host of police and fire departments, Travis Air Force Base and health agencies to put the county's ability to deal with a hazardous materials spill to the test.

More than a dozen agencies ranging from Vallejo to Dixon with about 200 police, firefighters, security forces, paramedics and explosives disposal experts took part.

The drill is testing the agencies' ability to deal with a criminal attack that released hazardous materials in a residential area, injuring a large number of people.

This was the first such multi-agency drill since November 2003, when more than 300 police and firefighters participated in a nighttime exercise to find out how to work together better.

The exercise held in the vacant housing on Travis Air Force Base was the first chance to test the abilities the county's hazardous materials response team and put what they learned from 2003 to the test.

"We are trying to enhance our capability for working with the different police and fire agencies in the county," said Bob Powell, Solano County Office of Emergency Services director.

Members of the Travis AFB Moulage Team helped set the stage by creating lifelike wounds on a dozen volunteers that ranged from abdominal lacerations to metal and glass fragments impaling arms and legs.

"I got this because I was kind of standing close to the bomb," said "bloodied" volunteer Stacie Dembski of the oozing mess that simulated her intestines.

Once Maj. Sarah Futterman finished creating the injuries, she coached Dembski and others how they were supposed to act.

The exercise started with firefighters setting up decontamination stations to hose off the victims and both police and firefighters getting into the protective gear.

While the suits are far from comfortable, "it is very important that we need to practice and learn how to work with other agencies," said Matt Luckenbach, Fairfield firefighter and hazmat team member.

The participants finished with the exercise by noon with a debriefing slated for later in the day and a critique of what went right and what needed improvement slated for early next month.

"This is important," Powell said of the drills. "Otherwise if we don't practice, it could end up a keystone cop event and we don't want that. The more we practice, the more these agencies will communicate with each other."

Reach Ian Thompson at 427-6976 or at

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