Video: Terrorism drill pushes limits

updated 4/5/2005 7:45:11 PM ET 2005-04-05T23:45:11

The focus of the nation’s largest-ever anti-terrorism drill shifted to hospitals Tuesday as fake victims streamed in from a mock biological attack in New Jersey and a simulated chemical-weapons explosion in Connecticut.

Four large, inflatable decontamination tents were set up in the parking lot of Union Hospital to treat the dozens of “patients” who had arrived by 9 a.m. from New Jersey’s mock pneumonic plague attack.

Doctors, nurses and the actors all wore white face masks, and each patient was given a colored toe tag to signify the severity of their condition. Five of the 64 patients wore black tags, indicating they were “dead.”

$16 million weeklong exercise
The $16 million, weeklong exercise is meant to find weak spots in the nation’s emergency planning.

In New Jersey, the drill began Monday at the Hillside campus of Kean University, with an investigation of a sport utility vehicle suspected — in mock terms — of spraying an aerosolized form of the deadly bacteria from a nozzle sticking out a rear window.

In New London, Conn., buses were overturned and volunteers playing victims wore gruesome makeup to simulate blisters and bloody scars.

As intelligence agencies attempt to find the culprits, health care systems were expected to be pushed to the breaking point in several locations. Hospitals remained open to treat real patients during the drill.

New Jersey Attorney General Peter Harvey said officials will have to answer several crucial questions quickly as part of the exercise.

“At what point do we think about quarantine?” he said. “At what point do we think about isolations or mass dispensation of medication? How do we control the public?”

Employee shortage
The drills are being monitored by top U.S. Homeland Security officials from a command center near Washington, as well as regional centers in New Jersey and Connecticut.

Kathryn Coyne, executive director of Union Hospital, said the mock attack showed her the biggest challenge would be getting enough employees to care for additional patients.

“We will face the reality of employees who will not want to come to work and who will want to stay home with their families. We will have to deal with a shortage of beds and we will have to deal with traffic in and around the hospital,” Coyne said.

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