San Jose Emergency was Just a Drill; Confusion was Real


Lisa Fernandez | | Friday, November 16, 2007

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- An emergency drill in San Jose featuring a biological attack on a mock rock concert got a little too real Wednesday when a non-profit agency mistakenly sent out an e-mail warning members of a public health emergency.

History San Jose, which sent the e-mail to its board members, corrected the mistake within about 25 minutes. But it touched off a flurry of calls between organizers of the drill and the non-profit organization.

I feel so d-u-m-b, said Barbara Johnson, development director of History San Jose, who issued the alert. I knew about this and I just didn t connect.

Johnson said she was reacting to a faxed advisory that recommended that anyone who had been at the HP Pavilion in the past two days should seek medical treatment.

San Jose spokesman Tom Manheim said the phony fax was sent to someone who was a dispatcher for the drill. But that fax machine is also used by History San Jose, which is located in a city building on Senter Road near San Jose Municipal Stadium, where the drill was occurring.

Johnson got to the fax first, Manheim said.

The alert said that pneumonic plague was released in HP Pavilion and that medication centers had been set up at the Santa Clara County Fairgrounds and other locations.

But it was just part of the Golden Guardian drill in which San Jose Municipal Stadium doubled as HP Pavilion.

About 345 volunteers showed up at Municipal Stadium to participate in what organizers said was Santa Clara County s largest ever emergency drill -- funded by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and managed by the state Office of Homeland Security.

Statewide, more than 3,000 players from 45 agencies -- including cities such as Anaheim and Stockton and counties such as Orange and San Joaquin -- participated in the exercise. Created after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the drill is the largest state-sponsored, coordinated exercise in the nation.

In San Jose, the pretend scenario that unfolded throughout the day: Terrorists had sent a pneumonic plague through the air-conditioning system at HP Pavilion where rock-concert fans needed to be quarantined, then washed down by a hazardous materials unit and bused to the county fairgrounds and other sites to receive doses of antibiotics.

Maureen Behlan of San Jose brought her teenage son, Kenny, and four of his Boy Scout Troop 13 friends to help out and play roles in the drama. She was supposed to be drunk, and in need of medical attention.

Like other volunteers, Behlan didn t quite know what was going on -- which mirrored a likely reality where the public would be in the dark during a real emergency.

Is this well-organized? I m still on the fence on that, Behlan said Wednesday morning. I m getting a lot of conflicting information.

Several other volunteers said the drill -- held under the bright sun in the outdoor stadium -- didn t kick off well either. The exercise began about an hour late, and when Mayor Chuck Reed -- playing himself -- spoke to thank the crowd, the microphone cut out several times.

Still, San Jose fire Capt. Craig Schwinge said that from an operational standpoint, the drill went well. All the participating agencies -- including all cities in Santa Clara County, plus the National Guard, water district officials and the Valley Transportation Authority, which was transporting all the victims to get medical attention -- were communicating with each other.

From what I ve been seeing, he said, the resources have been deployed and everyone is following the lines of authority. Plus, he added, all the radios were working, which, during a real emergency, is often the biggest weak link.

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Related Topics: Industry News, Leadership and Professionalism, Special Operations, WMD and Terrorism, Training

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