Zama anti-terror exercise plans for biological attack
CAMP ZAMA, Japan — Screams from writhing teens added realism to one of the biggest anti-terrorism emergency-reaction exercises at an Army post in Japan on Wednesday.
In the simulated terrorist attack, a vehicle rammed into a group of students on a field trip, then spewed white powder to replicate a biological agent.
Emergency responders and decontamination teams raced to the accident, where they faced an unknown substance, terrorists, injured and screaming students, and the possibility of widespread contamination.
The students, from Zama American High School, simulated real and psychological trauma, shrieking and displaying signs of mass hysteria.
“That’s why the victims were brought in, to bring confusion,” said Col. Garland H. Williams, commander of U.S. Army Garrison-Japan, who directed the exercise.
The simulation tests the post’s Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and High Explosive readiness as part of anti-terrorism and force protection training.
Defense Department directives require bases to test their reactions yearly. Before Sept. 11, 2001, soldiers conducted the drills. But the DOD changed the requirements to include a swath of the community.
Last year, Camp Zama officials took part in a joint training at Yokota Air Base. This year, the post conducted a drill at home, one of the Army’s largest so far in the region.
“The idea is to show the community we have a plan,” Williams said. “It puts together all the first responders.”
Emergency personnel, including Japanese firefighters working both for the Army and for local communities, faced contamination and security threats even as communication equipment and language proved to be barriers.
Organizers used mid-level leaders for the drill to prepare them in case high-ranking officials are away. In real life, a noncommissioned officer or mid-level emergency responder would take the lead until a superior arrived from home, for example.
The post also tested new equipment, including a decontamination trailer that delivers the final chemical bath. Students were hosed off with fire hoses, walked through a special portable shower, then completely decontaminated in the trailer.
After the first hour, drenched, shivering teens with simulated serious injuries waited, still screaming in pain, for their final medical treatments. Nearby, explosive ordnance teams from Yokosuka Naval Base, who would be flown in for a real crisis, disabled explosives in a mock terrorist vehicle.
Students from teacher Peggy Flavan’s drama and social studies classes played the victims. Before the exercise, they were briefed on their injuries and how they should behave.
To further challenge medical personnel, students could act as if they had real trauma, delayed injuries or only psychological effects.
“The kids really wanted to be able to interact with the community,” Flavan said. “It isn’t just a day off from school.”
Social studies student Keily Sasano was instructed to act “crazy” during the exercise, to show psychological injuries, she said. “I thought it would be fun” to participate, she said. “Even though it was cold.”
Wednesday was the third day of training. On Monday and Tuesday, officials conducted practice runs simulating chemical and radiological attacks.
The exercise was a success even if not perfect, officials said: It let each component practice its individual training.
“I think it’s been very effective,” said Julie Thixton, chief of U.S. Army Garrison-Japan Fire and Emergency Services. “I expect there to always be lessons learned.”