Pennsylvania Terror Drills

Title: Pittsburgh Holds Terror Drill, Testing Bioterror Response
May 9, 2005
Security Info Watch

Abstract: Intermittent showers didn't change the plans that Mike Belluomini and three buddies made for Saturday.

"It's not every day you get to participate in a mass evacuation," said Belluomini, 18, of Mount Lebanon.

But the rain apparently kept enough folks at home that fewer than 7,000 showed up by 11 a.m. for the $750,000 terrorism response drill organized by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security at PNC Park, officials said.

Organizers were hoping that an offer of two free Pittsburgh Pirates tickets, a souvenir replica of the park, and an American Red Cross first aid kit for each volunteer - as well as a free concert by three classic hometown rockers - would draw upwards of 14,000 people. But officials were confident that participating emergency crews learned a valuable lesson anyway.

"Everybody has to be vigilant. Everybody has to be prepared. It can happen in our most rural areas, it can happen in our most urban areas," said Roland Mertz, the deputy director for the state's Office of Homeland Security.

Emergency crews will be critiqued in a report to be prepared on the drill in the coming weeks.

As a concert by B.E. Taylor, Joe Grushecky and Donnie Iris was wrapping up, a charge simulating an explosion was set off near a seating area and a smoke bomb meant to represent a suicide bombing ignited. A short time later, another smoke bomb simulated a poisonous sarin gas bomb.

About 300 of the volunteers who registered through an area American Red Cross chapter were made up to appear injured and wore orange and white tags that described their symptoms. They were evaluated and taken to local hospitals in an exercise that lasted more than six hours.

Other volunteers were also evacuated, with regular stadium personnel helping to direct them out of the ballpark. "Uninjured" spectators nearer the sarin gas, including an Associated Press photographer covering the drill, had to go through a water bath to be "decontaminated" as they left.

Michael Steinberg, 47, came with his wife, Dawn, 37, and son, Jacob, 14, to be among the evacuees.

"We knew it was a drill, but they gave you no clue as to what was happening," said Michael Steinberg. He said the family came largely out of curiosity, but acknowledged that the free baseball tickets were a factor - and they walked away with four tickets to the Washington Nationals game on June 20 and two to a Florida Marlins game on June 2.

"I think it was very realistic," Steinberg said. "Even though people knew we were supposed to evacuate, people still sat there not knowing what to do after it went off. You know, that initial 'stun factor' - What should we do?"

Prudence Norman, 49, of Elizabeth, had hoped to be among the "injured" but registered on the Red Cross site too late, after the 300 triage victims had already been selected.

"This time, I was just one of the general volunteers. I think next time I'll be one of the hurt," said Norman, who said she was impressed by the response and is now confident that she'd be safe in the event of a real attack.

Belluomini's buddy, Aaron Martin, 18, of Mount Lebanon, took a lighter view of the proceedings.

"I didn't have much to do on a Saturday morning, so as soon as we heard there were people playing (music) and you get free (Pirates) tickets, we were here," Martin said (Security Info Watch, 2005).

Title: Terror Drill At WCCC Tests Cooperation Among 14 Police Departments
July 19, 2009

Three suspects open fire at a local Wal-Mart, while a bomb goes off at the Westmoreland County Prison and another detonates at a five-star hotel.

No police department has enough manpower to handle all three situations at once, and, worse yet, it might be a coordinated criminal attack.

Police need to combine the efforts of multiple departments to get the three situations under control as quickly as possible.

And after two days of training Wednesday and Thursday at Westmoreland County Community College Public Safety Training Center near Smithton, 14 Western Pennsylvania police departments are prepared to do just that. Based on the November Mumbai bombings, which killed about 170 people, the two-day training program confronted the officers with what to do if a multilocation hostage siege took place.

"Our response has to be coordinated. No team is large enough to handle something like this on their own," said state police Capt. Kevin Dugan, as he pointed out five locations on a white board, each with a fictional scenario the 200 officers in the training exercise were called to resolve.

Coordinated by the FBI SWAT in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania State Police SERT and Pittsburgh Bureau of Police SWAT, the police departments' tactical response teams went through each station three times.

"This is probably long overdue for a lot of teams," Beaver County police Capt. Anthony McClure said as he watched a team charge through a wooden door to the mock Wal-Mart and littered cardboard targets with bullets.

"In light of what's happening globally, I believe this excellent training," he said.

On the other side of the training center, a team of police with artillery and automatic weapons stood on the roof of a concrete building frame, intended as the hotel, awaiting their commands, while a helicopter hovered overhead.

Not only did the training help police departments learn to coordinate their efforts in the event of a large-scale threat, Beaver County tactical medic George Auer said it will help them in their day-to-day operations as well.

"Every department has a different way of doing things, so we can see what other departments do and apply it to what we do every day," Auer said.

At the end of the session yesterday, the team commanders critiqued their officers.

"The feedback's been good so far, but that doesn't really mean anything until we go over everything at the end of the day," Dugan said. "We'll give a realistic look at how each team did and then see who has problems and go from there" (TRIB Live, 2009).

Title: Terror Drill In Philadelphia All-Too-Real
June 26, 2012
CBS News

Every major city has plans in the event of a terrorist attack. This past weekend, emergency responders in Philadelphia were put to a surprise test.

It could make other cities wonder whether they're prepared for a potential terror attack.

From the start, the idea was to keep the responders on edge. In fact, it was called "Operation Edge."

The responders got the information one piece at a time, just as if it were a real incident unfolding.

Even the commanders didn't know what the drill was for until they got there.

It began in the early hours of Sunday morning.

A "bomb" went off on a subway train at 8:30 a.m., trapping it in a tunnel.

Frantic calls flooded 911.

In one, a distressed woman was heard saying, "Help, help. I'm in the subway!"

In another, a man says, "Listen - I'm in the subway. My God, I can't see anything!"

A bit later, the woman from the first 911 call says, in a calm voice, "This is a part of Operation Edge. Do you understand that this is an exercise?"

Then, the "wounded" man also asks, also in a calm voice, "Do you understand that this is an exercise?"

But in a real crisis, would the plans work?

The small group that designed the drill disclosed almost nothing to the first responders who participated. They didn't even know it was a bombing in the subway until they arrived at the scene.

"We kept the information hidden from the main players, including myself, as to the specifics of the emergency that was going to be simulated," Philadelphia Police Chief Inspector Joe Sullivan says.

Almost immediately, problems surfaced.

At the command post, communications issues arose between departments. Underground, confusion over a life-and-death issue: Should the rescuers follow procedure and retreat until the bomb squad handled the other suspected IEDs (improvised explosive devices)? Or risk it and rescue the victims while the bomb squad worked?

The bombs and the victims weren't real, but the pressure and the decisions were.

They call it "stressing the exercise" - building the pressure on the players as the scenario unfolds, having the unpredictable event introduced into the scenario. Building enough pressure so that things will go wrong . . . because, in real life, that's the way it goes.

"It's very easy to carefully script an exercise like this and provide that script to all the participants in advance," Sullivan noted. "And we can come out here and we can go through the script and at the end of the day pat each other on the back and say what a great job we did -- and have learned nothing."

The designer of the exercise, bomb squad commander and Philadelphia Police Lt. Tom Fitzpatrick, added another wildcard, and another lesson learned.

Near the command post, an out-of town ambulance went un-noticed. Inside: a 900-pound bomb meant to kill the first responders. It was an important element borrowed from a real-world terror plot.

In fact, it was in London in 2007 that a car bomb was found right where police had set up their command post after responding to a terrorist incident.

Two years earlier, the London subway bombings killed 52 people. The Madrid train bombings in 2005 killed nearly 200.

Everything in the Philadelphia drill had actually happened somewhere.

In the end, not everything went according to plan, but from the start, that was the plan.

"It gives our guys a chance to see what went wrong ... so there's a lot of lessons learned today ... and to use it as a training tool," observes Philadelphia Fire Department Battalion Chief Anthony Hudgins.

Police Chief Sullivan said, "We faltered along the way, but we regrouped, and we worked our way collectively through those problems we were confronted with. And that's the way things happen in real life" (CBS News, 2012).

Title: Pittsburgh International Holds Emergency Response Drill
August 2, 2012
CBS Pittsburgh

It looked like the real thing, but what passengers flying in and out of Pittsburgh International Airport may have noticed on one of the runways was just a drill.

The FAA requires a large scale drill like the one held Thursday evening every three years.

The scenario was that a commercial plane had an engine fail during takeoff and there was a low impact crash. A wing fell off and there was a fire

Officials say 120 volunteers represented injured passengers and wore tags detailing what was wrong with them.

Emergency responders stationed at the airport, as well as neighboring fire departments and paramedics, bolted into action.

The Airport Authority’s Brad Penrod says it’s a test of communication among other things. He says the airport has smaller drills and tests on a regular basis.

A construction project allowed them to hold this mock disaster on an actual runway, so they made sure that passengers in other planes were alerted that what they might see was only a drill (CBS Pittsburgh, 2012).

Title: Terrorism Drill At Parkland High Tests School And Police
August 8, 2012
Morning Call

Staging a mock catastrophe never seems quite right.

During Wednesday's drill at Parkland High School, actors feigning injury limped through the parking lot screaming for help. Inside, a pool of fake blood collected on the speckled hallway a few feet from a mock victim. Emergency workers hauled people off on stretchers as helicopters buzzed overhead.

Magnifying the uneasiness was the recent Colorado shooting, when a masked man opened fire on a theater showing the new Batman movie"The Dark Knight Rises," killing 12 and injuring 58. The harrowing news out of Colorado, however, underscores the importance of being prepared in the event tragedy strikes closer to home, officials said.

"The fact is we are dealing with these situations in real life, right now," said Bob Werts, program manager of the Northeast Pennsylvania Regional Counter Terrorism Task Force. "In the last few weeks, we've had a number of actual shootings, and there is a great interest in seeing what can be done by responders to lessen the number of people injured or killed."

During the large-scale, crisis-response drill, hundreds of emergency workers rushed to Parkland High School, where ambulances and police cruisers swarmed the parking lot. Medics lined the curb, dressing victims' bloodied gunshot wounds. Armed men in camouflage spilled out of an armored vehicle, charging into the building.

In the simulation, Werts said police responded to a mock scenario involving three shooters, at least one fatality and more than a dozen injuries. It began shortly after 9 a.m. when the police scanner announced gunshots coming from the school's back entrance.

In the mock drill, law enforcement officers quickly converged on the campus with guns drawn, shooting and killing the three masked gunmen.

School officials, some acting as injured students, then came out of the courtyard and were escorted by officers to safety.

"It seemed very real, very scary," said Kristen Lewis, an employee from Southern Lehigh School District who was inside observing the drill. "You could hear shots, you could hear screaming, and we saw police come in and take down the shooter. I was surprised by how realistic it felt."

Nicole McGalla, spokeswoman for the Parkland School District, expected the drill to be emotional, but also necessary and helpful.

"We are not doing this to scare anyone," she said. "We have a detailed crisis plan, and the whole idea is to practice it, so we can follow the steps and later learn what we should and should not do. At any time a crisis can happen, and the Colorado incident just proves that."

While police practice mock-scenario drills regularly to keep calm in crisis situations, she said schools typically limit their practice to fire drills and lock-down exercises, which can take less than 30 minutes to complete.

The idea for the large-scale emergency drill came from Parkland educators who questioned just how response plans would unfold in the event of a major disaster involving multiple agencies.

"We know that in a true emergency, word would get out immediately, and parents' first reaction may be to get to school, but how would we control traffic? How would we control people trying it get through the perimeter or students trying to leave? We needed a large scale drill to see what the response would be like," she said.

Werts said such exercise drills do more than hone response skills; they build relationships among agencies that would be drawn together during such a massacre.

"When an actual incident occurs, it's too late to exchange business cards," he said. "You should know what ambulance companies will be responding, what police agencies will be working together and who the emergency manage director is."

Hammering out procedures for responding to Wednesday's drill took more than a year of preparation and cooperation from more than a dozen area agencies, he said.

Surveying the frenzied scene of police, school and medical workers darting in and out of the school, Werts said the planning paid off.

"While it looks like chaos, everyone knows what their job is," he said. "You have to do things like this so first-responders are trained and know what to do when an event like this occurs."

Werts said he's helped organize similar drills at schools throughout the region, but not on such a large scale. More than 300 participants took part in the drill, which costs $16,000 and was paid for by a federal grant through the Department of Homeland Security.

Though the school's parking lot cleared by Wednesday afternoon, Werts said the training exercise is far from over. During the next few weeks, agencies will be reviewing and scrutinizing their response to the drill, seeking new ways to improve on procedures.

Agencies that took part in the drill included Lehigh County 911 dispatchers, Upper Macungie, North Whitehall, South Whitehall police and fire departments; Northeast Pennsylvania Regional Counter Terrorism Task Force; state police from the Fogelsville and Bethlehem barracks; Lehigh County Office of Emergency Services; Lehigh County Special Operations Division; Berks-Lehigh Regional police, Whitehall and Allentown police; Cetronia Ambulance Corps and medevac units for Lehigh Valley and St. Luke's hospitals (Morning Call, 2012).