MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - Emergency management officials will see if
nearly seven years of planning have adequately prepared them to
respond to a biological terrorist attack on the Twin Cities.
A drill at the Minneapolis Convention Center on Wednesday will
be the first exercise to use a plan developed by the Twin Cities
Metropolitan Medical Response System.
"We've made considerable progress," said St. Paul Fire Chief
Tim Fuller, who began pushing for such plans after attending a
national conference on terrorism in 1995, long before the terrorist
attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
"We started worrying about evil things before evil things
happened," said Al Bataglia, MMRS co-chairman and an assistant
fire chief in St. Paul.
The MMRS, which covers Ramsey and Hennepin counties, was
established to coordinate emergency planning among dozens of
federal, state and local agencies.
The response plans were completed earlier this year, but it took
more months to plan Wednesday's disaster scenario. The drill will
involve about 350 emergency personnel called out to deal with a
mock biological attack.
Most of the day will involve an exercise in which agency heads
must meet and quickly formulate a plan to deal with hundreds of
casualties.
The exercise is a prelude to a much larger drill in early May
when the entire network will be tested. As many as 1,000 people
will be involved in a mock attack response at the State
Fairgrounds, said Bataglia, who also serves as St. Paul's director
of emergency management.
Through a variety of federal sources, local agencies have
received millions of dollars to develop their plans, buy medicine
and upgrade equipment. Not only has the MMRS outfitted police and
fire personnel with protective suits, but it has stockpiled
medicine, purchased decontamination equipment and upgraded hospital
facilities to deal with mass casualties.
One remaining problem area is interagency communications.
With each agency using its own communications system, it has
been difficult to coordinate actions, deploy personnel and disperse
information.
A new multimillion-dollar communications system is still at
least a year away. In the interim, agency chiefs will sit together
and issue orders jointly.
"Overall we're really in pretty good shape," Bataglia said.
"The Twin Cities is not on everybody's radar, but we would be
remiss not to think about potential targets. We're all potential
targets."

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)