- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 9, 2002

It is morning and at the Pentagon center court 100 Pentagon officials sit in front of a small stage during an official ceremony.
Suddenly people start moaning. Some grab their heads. Others scream, "Help me" or pass out.
A sarin nerve gas attack, officials explained as emergency personnel rushed to the site.
It isn't real this time.
Military and civilians yesterday staged a chemical attack scenario called "Operation Misty Court" to test the skills and procedures of public safety and medical personnel, so as to better prepare them should a biochemical attack occur in a public setting.
"We are never too prepared," said Pentagon spokesman Glenn Flood about the exercise. "We always have to train and retrain."
During the drill, several dozen actors faked symptoms of exposure to sarin gas blurry eyes, mild headaches, nausea, diarrhea, vomiting. The chemical caused several deaths during a 1996 terrorist attack in a Tokyo subway.
Fire and rescue personnel from the Pentagon, Arlington, Alexandria, Fairfax, Fort Myer, Virginia State Police and the FBI rushed to the scene to help. Wearing protective suits, they investigated the chemical release, secured the site, controlled crowds and decontaminated and treated victims.
Since September 11 there has been a heightened awareness of potential biochemical attacks and an attempt for emergency and health personnel to become better prepared. Even so, this drill, initiated by the U.S. Department of Justice, was planned before last September's terrorist attack, and Pentagon officials stressed that the drill doesn't signal an increased threat.
Officials said the drill went well and that Pentagon protective services are more prepared to respond to modern threats than they were eight months ago, according to John Jester, chief of the Defense Protective Service.
Chief Jester said equipment that detects toxic chemical or biological agents has been installed in and around the building. Also, employees have been briefed on responding to potential threats; a public address system has been set up to communicate with employees during an emergency; and a new computerized alert system is being tested, which can send messages to individual computer terminals during emergencies. About 20,000 people work in the Pentagon.
Arlington County Fire Department Battalion Chief Benjamin Barksdale donned his heavy protective gear yesterday and organized efforts to pull sarin victims outside to decontamination sites. He said the drill went "very well."
"We had been practicing procedures prior to this," he said. "This was our first chance to try it on a larger scale."
The chief said the drill taught him and his colleagues what procedures worked well and what needed to be enhanced. For example, he said, making sure emergency personnel each have their own channel on the radio is important because communications are getting jammed. Initially, he added, they had too many resources outside and not enough inside to help the victims.
Nearby Virginia Hospital Center was one of four Virginia hospitals participating in their own drills on dealing with casualties of a biochemical attack. Real nurses and doctors, some in heavy protective gear, struggled to decontaminate and treat gas victims played by Red Cross volunteers.
"It was an opportunity to test a lot of changes that have occurred since September 11," said Dr. John Sverha, assistant director of the emergency department and chairman of the hospital's emergency preparedness committee. "It was a pretty effective drill. It showed us what worked and what still has to be ironed out."
Since September 11, the hospital has increased its capacity to treat patients of chemical attacks by installing decontamination shower heads outside, buying 20 protective suits for its medical workers, stocking up on medical supplies necessary to treat gas attack victims and training health care personnel to use the equipment.
"Dealing with patients in warm suits on a warm day in May made for an interesting two hours," he said. "It really sunk in how difficult handling a situation like this can be."


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