Pentagon Tests Bio-Attack Response
By Sgt. Sara Wood, USA
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May 17, 2006 A full-scale bio-exercise in the Pentagon parking lot today tested how the Pentagon police, in partnership with local emergency services, would respond to a biological attack at the military headquarters.
Red Cross volunteers, acting as potentially anthrax-exposed Pentagon employees, remove their "contaminated" clothing before being "decontaminated" during Gallant Fox 06 May 17 in a Pentagon parking lot. The exercise tested the response of Pentagon police and local and federal agencies to a biological attack at the Pentagon. Photo by Sgt. Sara Wood, USA
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
The Pentagon Force Protection Agency, Arlington County Fire Department, Red Cross, and other local and federal agencies participated in the exercise, dubbed "Gallant Fox 06," based on a scenario involving a suspected anthrax attack inside the Pentagon that triggered a sensor. In the scenario, testing was done and the presence of anthrax was confirmed.
All the people who would be involved in a biological attack response did a functional exercise April 12, during which they participated from their respective command posts and worked out details and logistics, said Jim Aiken, with the Pentagon Force Protection Agency. Today's exercise was to demonstrate how affected people would be evacuated from the building, decontaminated, treated and transported, he said.
Sixty-two Red Cross volunteers played the roles of affected Pentagon employees. They were evacuated out of the Pentagon to a decontamination site in the building's north parking lot. There they removed their "contaminated" clothing, took showers to rid themselves of any anthrax spores, and were given antibiotics to prevent infection. Some players also simulated special situations, like symptoms of anthrax infection or people with disabilities who needed assistance.
Aiken said that the value of today's exercise was twofold, because it gave agencies a chance to practice procedures and also let the Pentagon police and local responders meet and work with each other.
"You get to know them and get to build trust and confidence," he said.
The exercise was a success, but the agencies did identify some areas where improvement is needed, said Arlington County Fire Chief Jim Schwartz. The decontamination of potentially contaminated people poses a challenge, he said, because right now the procedures are for people to remove their clothes outside, shower in a trailer, and come back outside.
"You can imagine what kind of circumstances we would be facing if this were a day in mid-winter, trying to do the kinds of things that we were doing," he said.
The agencies involved are always working on communication and coordination of effort, Schwartz said, but the National Capital Region already excels in that area.
"This is the best-prepared region in the country," he said. He applauded the level of collaboration among the many jurisdictions involved and engaged across professional boundaries. "You will find no better example in the entire country than what's going on right here in the National Capital Region," Schwartz said.
In the event of a real biological attack, the procedures wouldn't differ greatly from those practiced today, Aiken said. Everything would be on a larger scale, however, because there would be a lot more than 62 people needing decontamination, he said. Where the decontamination site is placed would be based on availability of resources and the scale of the operation, he said.