GREENSBORO, N.C. (AP) - Too few emergency workers responded when
Greensboro conducted a mock nerve gas attack in April, and those
who did made several mistakes, according to a federal report.
Some of the police and paramedics "contaminated" themselves
with nerve gas. They didn't look for two additional "bombs," one
of which exploded. They also didn't promptly interview witnesses or
immediately treat the area as a crime scene, according to the
37-page report.
The event, involving more than 800 emergency workers and
volunteers, simulated an attack with the nerve gas sarin. Sarin was
used in a 1995 attack on the Tokyo subway system that killed 12 and
injured more than 5,000.
The federal government ordered the country's 120 largest cities,
including Greensboro, to conduct simulations of terrorist attacks
after the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995. Officials with the U.S.
Justice Department observed Greensboro's April 24 simulation and
wrote a report later.
The report said Greensboro's emergency workers have a lot of
good qualities to build on, despite the troubles in the drill.
"Although the exercise scenario challenges many preconceived
notions regarding response and preparedness planning, the community
demonstrated that its credentials - its innovative, talented and
tested first responders - are impressive and provide a firm
foundation on which to build," the report said.
Local fire, police and emergency services officials didn't
expect to do well in the drill, the first of its kind in Guilford
County.
"We knew we'd have some shortcomings and we knew we'd have some
work to do," said Kenny Stanley, a battalion chief with the
Greensboro Fire Department. "It's not a surprise."
The simulated attack began in the morning with an "explosion"
at the coliseum. Emergency units responded after 911 calls and
radio calls from a police officer working security at the fake
event.
Chaos ensued at that point, according to the report.
The coliseum parking lot quickly became choked with emergency
vehicles. Panicked "victims" swarmed the vehicles and emergency
workers, some of whom weren't wearing protective gear or had put it
on wrong.
Emergency workers had trouble directing the victims and there
weren't enough police on hand to contain the scene, according to
the report.
"Had victims been more hysterical and determined, they could
have easily overwhelmed the perimeter security efforts established
by the underresourced police and fled the scene," the report says.
The fire department quickly began spraying water from pumper
trucks to "decontaminate" victims, but victims weren't told to
remove their clothing or how to move through the water. There was
no attempt to control the runoff from the decontamination area,
which would have carried poison into storm sewers if the attack had
been real.
A treatment area was set up next to the decontamination area,
but paramedics didn't wear protective gear.
Once victims were decontaminated, they waited more than 30
minutes for medical treatment. While they were waiting, a second
"bomb" exploded. By the time it was over, more than 200 people
were assumed to have been hurt or killed.
Local officials blame some of the chaos on the way the event was
set up.
For example, all the emergency vehicles gathered across the
street from the coliseum before the event began. They all arrived
at the coliseum at the same time, creating a traffic jam. In a real
attack, crews would have left from different areas and arrived at
different times.
Stanley and others said local agencies must learn from the
mistakes, though.
Since April, Greensboro has changed its command structures,
added equipment and scheduled additional disaster training.
"We've got to act like it's gonna happen here and prepare
ourselves," said Maj. John Goldean, training supervisor for the
Guilford County Emergency Services department. "We're in the
infant stages here. I'm not going to sit here and say, 'Bring
everything you've got and we'll handle it."'

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