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Mock terrorist attack tests emergency responders

April 21, 2008|By DON AINES

HAGERSTOWN -- The thunderous report of gunshots inside the terminal of Hagerstown Regional Airport Saturday morning signaled the start of a disaster drill that brought scores of police, fire and ambulance personnel in reaction to a mock terrorist attack.

"I am, yes," Kelsey Shroades said when asked if her head wound was fatal. "Gunshot by the police officer."

Shroades lay by the departure gate, a plastic gun by her side. A few yards away, her arm a mass of faux gunshot injuries, was another terrorist, Erica Elgin. Neither woman fit the profile.

"We've got the perfect cover. The proverbial soccer mom," said Elgin, a phlebotomist at Washington County Hospital. Shroades is on the hospital's decontamination team.

Scattered about the terminal and on the tarmac outside were the victims. More were inside a smoking mock-up of an airplane, something left over from the days when Fairchild built aircraft here, said Greg Larsen, the airport's business development manager.

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"We're having our triannual disaster drill to test the FAA, Federal Aviation Administration, required airport emergency plan, as well as the airport security plan," Airport Fire Chief Phil Ridenour said.

The scenario was for the terrorists to open fire at the screening checkpoint, injuring passengers and a law enforcement officer, Ridenour said.

One of the terrorists then opens fire on the plane, which catches on fire, Ridenour said.

The shooters and the victims had fake wounds, or moulage, applied, white smoke poured from the plane and black smoke billowed from smudge pots as first responders began arriving.

Drill safety officers, controllers, evaluators and other officials distinguished by their green vests watched as police, fire and ambulance personnel carried out their assigned roles. To keep the responders on their toes, some unexpected touches were added, such as the disoriented woman who picked up one terrorist's pistol and wandered about before being disarmed and detained.

Police, including the Washington County Special Response Team, first secured the scene before ambulance and fire crews could treat the wounded and take them to Washington County Hospital.

Ironing out issues of communications and working together with personnel from other jurisdictions is one aim of such exercises, said Kevin Lewis, the acting director of the county's Division of Fire and Emergency Services. Another is practicing the National Incident Management System protocols for different types of incidents.

The execution by the responders was to be critiqued later at the Maugansville Goodwill Volunteer Fire Co.

For safety reasons, sirens and lights were not used, and all traffic laws were obeyed as emergency personnel traveled to the airport, Lewis said.

The airport does not have regular passenger service at this time, but the drill is important to maintaining its ability to have commercial service in the future, Larsen said.

"This exercise is one of the things you have to do to show you are prepared" for commercial service, Larsen said. "If we were just a GA (general aviation) airport, this wouldn't be necessary."

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