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[whitespace] terrorism Bug Repellent: A new generation of terrorist weaponry could change the style of uniform worn by police officers and firefighters.

Christopher Gardner

San Jose prepares for the unthinkable--a random act of terrorism employing chemical and biological weapons

By Cecily Barnes

ON A SATURDAY MORNING within the next few weeks, a band of terrorists will attack San Jose City Hall. A devastating weapon--either chemical, or biological--will erupt while more than a dozen people are inside the building. Some will escape without harm, others will become contaminated and some may die.

When the terrorists strike, a citizen will dial 911, triggering a response from police, fire and medical personnel. These emergency-response workers will arrive at City Hall with a trailer in tow, packed with the nation's latest defenses against high-tech terrorist weapons.

Firefighters sealed in moon-suits will inflate tents, hook up portable showers and decontaminate victims still at the site. Hospital workers will pitch tents outside the nearest emergency room to assist walk-in victims so they don't contaminate hospital hallways.

Four hours later, the tragedy will have ended. Tents will be packed back into the trailers, workers will unzip their plastic suits and police and fire vehicles will drive away. The chemical, biological or nuclear contaminant will transform back to an imagined threat, and the victims will turn back into actors volunteering for San Jose's first Terrorist Incident Response Drill.

"We're trying to provide people with a full-scale incident in a learning situation," says Franny Winslow, director of the Office of Emergency Services. "Hopefully this will be the only time we'll have to use this equipment."

But according to the federal government's calculations, this might not be the last time. Otherwise, the feds wouldn't be handing out $650,000 worth of germ-fighting and bug-stopping gear to the 120 largest U.S. cities. If there were no terrorist threat, 40 government agencies would not be sponsoring anti-terrorist programs with costs that reach into the billions.

Because the threat of a terrorist attack is deemed as real, San Jose had no choice but to nod its head in acceptance when the feds selected the city to prep for a biochemical terrorist incident.

The next time, the federal government fears, it won't be a drill.

Random Access

WHEN TERRORISTS infiltrated a Tokyo subway with the nerve gas sarin in 1995, U.S. legislators awoke to a new variety of warfare. Bugs, viruses and inhalable substances--already classified as weapons of mass destruction--came to be seen as threats that reached far beyond the battlefield. The FBI and GAO released reports defining this threat, and money followed.

The Defense Against Weapons of Mass Destruction Act of 1996 outlined preparation plans for terrorist acts, calling the threat "greater than at any time in history." The following year, Defense Secretary William Cohen called it "the greatest threat any of us will face in the coming years."

According to government think-tanks, the dissolution of the Soviet Union is partially to blame. When that government fell apart, previously classified chemical and biological materials and intelligence became more accessible to individuals and terrorist groups.

In response to these threats, President Clinton issued Presidential Decision Directive 39 in 1995, clearing the way for a slew of counter-terrorist programs. His directive made one fact very clear--a new strain of terrorism loomed on the horizon, and America would soon be prepared for its wrath.

"The Tokyo subway gassing really woke up authorities both in the U.S. and abroad to the vulnerabilities that civilians have," says Melinda Lamont-Havers, research associate for the Monterey Institute of International Studies. "A few weeks after, the New York City Metropolitan Transit did a big mock event and realized they were woefully unprepared. Congress then decided we needed to spend money."

Following Clinton's directive, Congress authorized a program assigning six government agencies to prepare the nation's 120 largest cities--including San Jose, San Francisco and Los Angeles--for a chemical or biological terrorist attack. Soon, Oakland, Sacramento and San Diego will join the list.

Dozens of other programs and budget increases followed, including a cash boost to the FBI to hire on 175 intelligence agents for tracking biological and chemical threats. Independent research agencies have also received government grants to search for potential threats and respond to terrorist activities.

The Monterey Institute assesses potential threats by constructing scenarios and reviewing past incidents. Once a list of potential threats has been compiled, other agencies determine how to respond. In San Jose, Winslow says, locations such as the courthouse, City Hall and the Arena could be targeted.

The nonprofit organization Business Executives for National Security submits studies and suggestions to Congress for dealing with terrorist threats. Associate Zachary Selden says today's terrorists pose a greater threat because they strike without rhyme or reason.

"The World Trade center bombing, what were their demands? What were their goals?" Selden asks. "These guys in Africa--what was their goal other than to cause as much pain and damage to the United States as they possibly could? ... It's no longer politically motivated groups with discreet and individually tailored goals."


Related Links:
The US State Department Counterterrorism web site.

Secretary of Defense William Cohen's statement on counterterrism.


Chaos Rains

SINCE FRANNY WINSLOW was put in charge of San Jose's terrorist response plan in spring 1997, she's held monthly meetings with the head of every emergency department in San Jose. In one training exercise, Winslow and the members of her core group hypothesized how they would respond if a chemical were released at the San Jose Arena.

"If our first responders saw people coming out of the building with their eyes all tearing up and collapsing, then you know you've had a serious chemical release," says Dennis Guzman, chief of special operations for the San Jose Police Department.

The Arena and everyone in it would be considered contaminated. If people were allowed to flee the scene, they would potentially contaminate the city.

"You're going to have pandemonium," Guzman says. "People are going to want to get out of there because they're choking, but if you send the officers in there, then you're going to lose your first responders. We'd just seal off the area and let the fire department's haz-mat team respond."

Biological agents such as anthrax are potentially more deadly. If police pulled up at the Arena after a Sharks game and thousands of fans had been exposed to a biological agent, officers wouldn't have a clue. The fans would go home and later feel like they'd been hit with a bad case of the flu--runny nose, chills, fever and respiratory distress. After a few days, the symptoms would disappear--the second-to-last-stage known as the "anthrax eclipse."

"At this point your body's immune system is being defeated, and so you feel better," Winslow says. "Four or five days later, you begin to feel really sick. At this point, you are at the point of dying, and you are thought to be beyond treatment."

Doctors across the valley, who will be trained to report high incidents of flu-like symptoms, would contact Winslow if they noticed a disturbing trend. If the biological agent were detected early enough, large doses of antibiotics could be administered to destroy the virus. If not, many individuals would die.

With nearly everything in place, Winslow is waiting to see how the city's police and fire staff will respond at the mock terrorist explosion that will assault City Hall in October.

San Jose is the sole city in the Santa Clara Valley stocked with equipment to respond to a biochemical outbreak. Cupertino, Sunnyvale, Santa Clara and other local cities have nothing. In the event of a chemical or biological outbreak, they would be on their own.

When members of the Army Chemical and Biological Defense Command flew to San Jose in January to train the terrorist-response task force, emergency leaders from surrounding cities did attend. However, because they are not participants in the Domestic Preparedness Program, surrounding cities were denied the resources, supplies and money to pull a solid plan together.

Would San Jose lend out its mobile tents and showers? City brass would have to decide if loaning out this expensive and limited equipment was in the best interest of the city and its residents.

"I can't tell what materials we would be willing to loan out. Ultimately the decision is made by the city manager in consultation with the police chief, fire captain and anyone else whose resources might be requested," Winslow says. "It's just like with a fire. The chief would have to consider, is San Jose about to catch on fire? If so, we might have to say, We can't help you."

However, help is available for other cities. Within four hours, the U.S. Army's Chemical Biological Rapid Response Team could be deployed. A hotline is also available for police, fire and haz-mat technicians, operated by the Chemical Biological Defense Command.

But in the immediate and chaotic aftermath of an attack, police officers and fire officials would be forced to rely on their own still-limited resources.

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From the August 20-26, 1998 issue of Metro.

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