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thedrifter
08-25-05, 06:48 PM
Chemical terrorist attack simulated at Camp Pendleton
By Greg Magnus
UNION-TRIBUNE BREAKING NEWS TEAM
August 25, 2005

CAMP PENDLETON Several hundred Marines, base firefighters and police and U.S. Navy personnel simulated a chemical terrorist attack Thursday morning as part of an annual drill. The only real casualty was a wallet.

The drill, called Vector West 05, began late Wednesday with a simulated warning to Camp Pendleton military police of potential terrorist activity in the area, Marine spokesman 1st Lt. Nathan Braden said.

Security levels were increased in some parts of the base and traffic barricades were erected. Then, Thursday morning, a civilian bus carrying unknown occupants was reported to have driven through the San Luis Rey Gate onto the base and then exploded.

"Somehow they got through," Braden said, describing the drill's scenario. "Now we are potentially dealing with some type of explosive and a chemical agent. There are injured and possibly a contaminate in the air."

Part of the exercise, said base commander Brig. Gen. Michael Lehnert, is dealing with complex but incomplete information. Emergency crews are often confronted with unknown factors when arriving at the scene of a disaster, whether it is manmade or natural. He said part of the exercise was to see how people evaluate the problem and then respond.

"You can't always do what comes as human nature and take care of the injured and dying," he said.

As he spoke, behind him, Navy personnel pretending to be wounded shouted for help from a bus parked in the street. One sailor hung out the back door, an apparent bombing victim. Farther up the road, three sailors limped through a spray of water as a firefighter shouted instructions to them through a bullhorn.

The trio were hosed down by firefighters and eventually treated for simulated wounds before being taken to a hospital for further decontamination. Meanwhile, the people in the bus continued to plea for aid.

"Please, somebody help us," shouted a woman from the bus. "We're dying in here. Help us."

Since the bus in Wednesday's drill was carrying an unknown substance, the bomb squad and hazardous material team had to suit up and prepare a decontamination unit for themselves, said Camp Pendleton Fire Chief Tim Hoover.

"I realize it looks like a slow process, but it is a slow process. It's not a good thing, but they (the pretend victims) have to wait," Hoover said. "We don't want firefighters to be victims also."

He said that at a terrorism drill at Qualcomm Stadium after the 9/11 attacks, many disaster workers were called "dead" by drill organizers because of terrorist booby traps.

Once at the hospital, the make-believe victims were greeted by the hospital's Decontamination Incident Response Team. The team's members then soaked down the men again and took them into a tented area, where they were scrubbed with brushes and basic dish soap.

"Most warfare agents are oil-based and can be washed off with a mild dishwasher detergent," team leader Lt. Cmdr. Paul Barfknecht said, adding that 5-7 minutes of scrubbing are usually sufficient to remove any contamination.

Afterward, the person would be tested by a "chemical sniffer" to see if more cleaning was needed. Only after a person is deemed clear of contamination will they be taken into the hospital for treatment.

Barfknecht said there's generally enough time for such precautions.

"Most people who survive to this point after a chemical attack will make it for another five minutes," Barfknecht said.

One of the ersatz victims, Navy Corpsman Linh Dang, didn't expect he would be hosed down and had left his wallet and cell phone in his pocket.

Too late.

"All my pictures and receipts and cash were pretty much soaked down," he said later, "but at least Wendy's took my money."

Greg Magnus: (619) 293-1317; greg.magnus@uniontrib.com

Ellie