Officials Prepare for Bioterror Drill

This week, officials across the nation will have their hands full with an imaginary ``dirty bomb'' in Seattle and the fake threat of a biological agent in Chicago - both part of the most extensive bioterrorism drill in the nation's history.


SEATTLE (AP) -- This week, officials across the nation will have their hands full with an imaginary ``dirty bomb'' in Seattle and the fake threat of a biological agent in Chicago _ both part of the most extensive bioterrorism drill in the nation's history.

The five-day drill, set to begin Monday, is aimed at testing the ability of local, state and federal authorities to handle terrorist attacks. It is the first large-scale counterterrorism exercise since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, D.C.

The exercises, which are being spearheaded by the Department of Homeland Security, will cost an estimated $16 million and involve more than 8,500 people from 100 federal, state and local agencies, the American Red Cross and the Canadian government.

The scenarios involve two separate attacks _ one nuclear, one biological _ by two cells of a terrorist group.

On Monday afternoon, Seattle officials were set to respond to an explosion causing more than 100 ``casualties.'' Under the scenario, radiation was to be detected near the blast's crater, triggering a response from federal officials.

Over the next few days, a number of ``patients'' were due to show up at hospitals in the Chicago area suffering from flu-like symptoms. In the script, the terrorist group had released a deadly plague in aerosol form on Saturday. More cases were to be reported across the nation and Vancouver, British Columbia, prompting the coordination of officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Healing the victims of the bomb blast and cleaning up their homes was to take place in Seattle and a raid on the fictional terrorist group _ dubbed GLODO for the exercise _ was scheduled.

The scenarios later in the week involve the distribution of antibiotic stockpiles, the handling of an increasing level of patients suffering from the biological agent and discovery of the sites where the material was produced. In Chicago, emergency workers will also grapple with a fictional airplane crash.

A detailed, 200-page scenario has been written for the drill, which officials said will be as realistic-looking as possible. Stand-ins will portray President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and even press secretary Ari Fleischer.

Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels has said he isn't worried that the security exercise may cause panic, noting that the event has received extensive publicity locally and warnings have appeared in newspaper ads.

Some details have been kept from the participants in order to make the exercise more realistic. The Office of Domestic Preparedness has been planning the event _ dubbed ``Topoff 2'' for ``top officials'' _ since shortly after the first such drill, ``Topoff 1,'' three years ago in Denver and New Hampshire.

Participants will include governors, mayors, county executives and other elected officials as well as police officers, firefighters, hospital personnel and other emergency responders.

``Protection against terrorism requires that organizations at every level of government and in the private sector work together in partnership to prepare for events and deal with their consequences,'' U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge said in a news release. ``Topoff 2 provides the opportunity to test our preparedness, and at the same time identify ways to improve response in the future.''

Hundreds of evaluators will watch the exercise and report their findings for later study. Whatever lessons are learned will likely be applied to earthquakes and other natural disasters, as well as terrorist attacks, officials said.

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