Mock terrorist exercise held in Coweta
This was only a drill. What you are about to read involved scenarios from Exercise Southern Heat, a multi-agency response to a fictitious terrorist attack in Coweta County on Oct. 24-26. The focus of the full-scale exercise involving 21 local, state and federal agencies was to prepare emergency responders to effectively react to a terrorist attack where Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear or High-yield Explosive (CBRNE) agents were used.
Coweta County Emergency Management Director Jay Jones said the purpose of Exercise Southern Heat was to provide a training exercise that would bring together a diverse group of local, state and federal professionals in reaction to a CBRNE event in order to save lives and protect the public.
Arguably the largest public safety training exercise ever undertaken in Coweta County or in west central Georgia, the scenarios were acted-out over a three-day period. They were meant to be realistic.
Along with the multitude of response personnel at the sites, the scenarios also included a large number of people providing role playing to make the training exercise more realistic.
The first scenario was conducted in two parts on Oct. 25 and 26 and involved a hostage situation at an abandoned building in Newnan. As it unfolded, the scenario had the 911 Call Center receive a phone call at 8 a.m. from a man claiming he was with the Peoples United Liberation Front and saying he would soon unleash judgment on the infidels. The call was terminated before a trace could be made. Then moments later at 8:15 a.m. the call center received a call from a woman identifying herself as Teresa Smith and stating that she had been kidnapped and was being held in an abandoned building in Newnan by several men of Middle Eastern origin. Before the call was abruptly terminated the woman said she believed the men had killed one person and that several others were being held at the location.
The second scenario was conducted Oct. 27 at the Coweta County fairgrounds. The scenario was set up as though the annual county fair was underway. It involved an anthrax release at the fairgrounds.
As the background information unfolded, an FBI Intelligence Summary sent through law enforcement channels noted that several employees of an Atlanta vendor had reported that during a meeting about providing support at the fair one of them, a Pakistani male on a student visa, made a comment about contaminating the food and water stations scattered around the fairgrounds.
Further information in the scenario explained that the Pakistani man is attending a university in the Atlanta area and is a chemical engineering student. The man’s visa had been renewed and he had recently returned from traveling overseas.
As the scenario played out, a Middle Eastern male was found unconscious in a vehicle near the fairgrounds and was taken to Piedmont Newnan Hospital. A search of the vehicle revealed a laptop, hand-drawn maps, a flyer for the fair and a gym bag containing rubber gloves, a respirator, safety goggles and several unused syringes. A fourth syringe found in the vehicle’s passenger area led first responders to believe the man was in anaphylactic shock.
And finally in the scenario, the 911 Call Center is notified by fairground personnel that large numbers of patrons are displaying signs and symptoms that include seizures, constricting pupils, tearing eyes, salivation, chest tightness, vomiting, diarrhea and death.
In both scenarios, exercise participants from the various agencies were tasked with responding in their area of training. And with the participation of so many local, state and federal agencies there was much to learn in terms of how a local community such as Coweta County might tackle a significant WMD (Weapons of Mass Destruction) event if or when it might occur.
“We had three days of collaboration and working together for a WMD exercise,” said Jones, adding that it was especially good to have personnel from the U.S. Army and FBI’s Hazmat unit participating. “We had good cooperation from public safety, the hospital and the prison. And it was great to see the county’s public safety resources in action is this type of exercise.”
Agencies participating in Exercise Southern Heat included Coweta County Emergency Management, Army North, Civil Support Readiness Group-East-Southeast Division (ARNORTH,CSRG-E, SE DIV), Coweta Fire Dept., Newnan Fire Dept., Newnan Police Dept., Ga. District IV Health Dept., Coweta County Health Dept., Coweta County 911, Coweta County Prison and Work Release Center, Piedmont Newnan Hospital, American Red Cross, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Georgia Bureau of Investigation, American Medical Response Coweta County, Coweta Sheriff’s Office, Senoia Police, National Weather Service, Ga Div. of Public Health, Ga. Emergency Management Agency (GEMA) and, as observers, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).