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HomeNewsArchivesMock Bomb Scare Uncovers Kinks in Emergency Response

Mock Bomb Scare Uncovers Kinks in Emergency Response

Dec. 14, 2007 — A Homeland Security drill on St. John Thursday put local emergency crews back at the drawing board, as responders including the V.I. Police Department to Fire Services attempted to handle the "detonation" of a "dirty bomb."
Gathering at Enighed Pond, members of Charlotte Amalie High School's Junior ROTC were loaded onto a school bus and role-played "victims" for the exercise. A makeshift bomb, located inside a small cardboard box, was detonated in front of the bus. The point of the drill, according to State Homeland Security Director Mel Vanterpool, was to see how long before local emergency responders could get to the scene and defuse the situation.
He said such a bomb, once detonated, would have sprayed radioactive material into the air, contaminating the students and anything else within range.
As the students poured out of the bus, some pretended to choke while others fell to the floor as if fatally injured. Officials on site went into action, calling 911. A couple of minutes later, the sirens of the fire department could be heard. However, some of the firefighters said later in the day that dispatchers did not tell them they would be handling a "dirty bomb."
Had the attack been real, they said, everyone on the scene would have been contaminated. Response crews tasked with testing the air quality and decontaminating the scene arrived 20 minutes later.
Still, without knowing exactly what was going on, firefighters and other agency crews mobilized and began to aid the victims. Those who could walk were assisted by the firefighters and triaged according to injury. The "dead " were carried away and quarantined.
Participating in the drill were the American Red Cross, Emergency Medical Services, the V.I. National Park Service, V.I. Port Authority, office of the St. John administrator, U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, V.I. Department of Health, Fire Services, VIPD, the V.I. National Guard Civil Support Team and the V.I. Territorial Emergency Management Agency.
Speaking later in the day, Vanterpool explained that the agencies would be evaluated on their performance during the drill.
"I would have liked to see a bit faster response," he said. "We already have some major deficiencies that we're looking at, starting with the 911 calls. Because it all starts there — the call to 911 is supposed to get everything going in terms of response. We had to make a couple of calls to them, and had some issues getting the calls routed timely."
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