DoD Drill Tests Response to Terrorist Attack
By Staff Sgt. Alicia K. Borlik, USA
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jun. 9, 1998 The "terrorist attack" on the Pentagon May 30 was just exercise Cloudy Office, but the threat is real, said Chief John Jester of the Defense Protective Service.
The exercise simulated an armed assault on the office of Defense Secretary William Cohen. The drill included a barricaded hostage situation and the terrorist release of a lethal nerve agent. Cloudy Office was held on Saturday, when the building is nearly empty. Normally, about 25,000 people work inside on a regular weekday when such an attack would take place.
The exercise of Pentagon force protection measures and the responsiveness of civilian emergency services involved more than 500 people from federal, state and local agencies. Jester said the Pentagon was used because, as an international symbol of the United States military, it is a plausible terrorist target.
Cloudy Office was not a test of Pentagon security, said Army Lt. Col. Nancy Burt, a DoD spokesperson. The scenario assumed a breach -- the "terrorists" started their assault inside the building and did not have to overcome building security measures.
The exercise began with nine armed pro-Iraqi terrorists storming Cohen's office, taking the staff hostage and threatening to release sarin unless their demands were met. Carrying dummy shotguns and pistols, the terrorists also had a gallon jug of liquid simulating sarin nerve agent, a liter bottle of diluted sarin and an explosive device.
A Pentagon surveillance camera caught the attackers and signaled the communications center to dispatch officers to the scene. Under the scenario, in the initial confusion, someone knocked over the jug, releasing lethal fumes that felled more than 200 "Pentagon workers."
Jester said the initial response was to contact the terrorists. After negotiations led to the release of some hostages, DoD officials questioned them and determined officials faced a possible chemical weapon situation.
Hazardous material teams from local fire departments arrived at the scene and set up decontamination facilities. Military medical personnel prepared an outdoor triage area to treat potential sarin victims.
Meanwhile, negotiations continued and ended with the terrorists releasing the hostages and surrendering. While some DoD officers secured the building, others continued evacuating sarin victims.
Water sprayed from three fire trucks provided the initial decontamination of victims. Following that, victims were taken to the triage area for exams and treatment. Some players were randomly declared "still contaminated" to give emergency technicians practice in using a special decontamination shower and different treatment procedures.
DoD officials said the exercise is part of an effort to improve the nation's overall ability to respond to incidents involving nuclear, biological or chemical agents.
"The chemical threat is big now," Jester said, citing Japanese extremists' 1995 sarin attack on the Tokyo subway. "Everybody in the emergency reaction and counterterrorism fields has been looking at how to respond." Other events, such as the World Trade Center and Oklahoma City bombings, have prompted DoD to increase exercises of this type, he said. "With what's going on in the world today, you have to look at all types of threats."
Cloudy Office was not the first exercise of its kind in metropolitan Washington, but was by far the largest. A similar exercise two years ago, Operation Crucial Office, also simulated a hostage situation in the defense secretary's office. DoD also conducted two partial evacuations of the Pentagon in October and November 1997.
"I think we should do it more often," paramedic and firefighter Stephanie Cacopardo of Montgomery County, Md., said at the exercise scene. A medic for 17 years, Cacopardo has been involved in several similar exercises and said there will always be tremendous value in doing them.
"As usual, there will be an initial panic," she said, explaining the first reactions of several emergency teams arriving at a scene. "But it brings up mistakes and problems."
Jester agreed. "Communication between organizations in this type of event is sometimes difficult," he said. "That's why you have to practice this. Start crawling, then running."
Agencies involved in the exercise included the FBI, the fire and rescue departments of Arlington County, Va., the Army Pentagon Medical Facility, the Washington Metropolitan Strike Force, hazardous material teams, the Virginia Office of Public Health and the Office of the Secretary of Defense. The 200 volunteer victims came from the military services.