Emergency exercise tests Nevada’s anti-terrorism response | NevadaAppeal.com
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Emergency exercise tests Nevada’s anti-terrorism response

by Geoff Dornan, Appeal Capitol Bureau

It began Friday, the story goes, when a mysterious van released a plague on the Las Vegas Strip.

Within a couple of days, people begin to turn up at Southern Nevada hospitals complaining of flu-like symptoms — first just a few, but soon a flood of people.

Doctors identify it as pneumonic plague and law enforcement confirm it was a bioterrorist attack. A day later, not only Clark County emergency teams but the state’s Emergency Operations Center and the federal Department of Homeland Security are activated.

Thankfully, it’s just a drill.

Gov. Kenny Guinn said the exercise dubbed “Determined Promise ’03” has been in the works for 18 months.

“This invaluable opportunity will test our state’s response plans alongside local and federal agencies,” he said. “While the scenarios used in this exercise are simulated, the training we receive and subsequent benefit to the public is very real.”

The idea is to test the state’s ability to deal with a bioterrorist attack, plans to contain and limit the spread of any disease, to hunt down the perpetrators and preventing further attacks.

“The exercise is designed to overwhelm the state,” said Maj. Gen. Giles Vanderhoof, Nevada’s adjutant general.

He said the idea is for force flaws in the system to show themselves.

“We’re looking for what doesn’t work,” he said. “If we do an exercise that’s perfect, it isn’t a good exercise.”

Nevada’s chief of emergency management, Frank Siracusa, said the goal is to improve Nevada’s state plan as well as federal responses to a bioterrorist attack. He said Nevada was picked in good share because the Strip is regarded as a potential target.

The exercise, costing a total of $2 million, mostly federal dollars, will involve about 1,200 local, state and federal employees. It will run through Aug. 29 before the participants shut down and begin analyzing what went right and, more importantly, what didn’t.

Siracusa said the exercise is being conducted through a combination of staged events, computer simulations and scenarios drafted to test everything from medicines to medical experts, mobile hospital units, quarantine and isolation plans, communication and cooperation between agencies from local to the federal levels as well as between civilian and military groups.

Guinn said one good piece of news for the future is that the Federal Emergency Management Agency has allocated funding to build a chemical and biological analysis laboratory in Southern Nevada. Currently, the only lab in the state is in the north, requiring any samples or specimens to be shipped more than 400 miles for analysis.