Just after 3 a.m. during Mardi Gras festivities, a series of catastrophic events unfold along the Texas Gulf Coast. Two large petrochemical plants have been attacked: both are burning out of control. A large vessel carrying hazardous chemicals is spilling its dangerous cargo into the Texas City harbor. The bridge between Galveston Island and mainland Texas is destroyed. A cruise ship docked at Galveston reports two men in a tanker truck have sprayed an unknown substance onto the ship and passengers are having difficulty breathing. Every few minutes, another disaster strikes, and a terrorist group who vows to stop at nothing, is behind it all.
What sounds like the script for the next Hollywood blockbuster is actually the training scenario developed by NERRTC, the National Emergency Response and Rescue Training Center, a member of the National Domestic Preparedness Consortium and part of the TEEX family.
The events are simulated, but the vulnerabilities are real.
“We visit each participating community and assess what the real threats may be and incorporate them into the exercise,” says Doug Rape, NERRTC Program Coordinator. “When the exercise unfolds and community leaders hear simulated reports of the devastation, it puts a whole new perspective on the importance of preparedness.”
This particular scenario was created for the cities of Galveston, Freeport, and Texas City, and Galveston and Brazoria counties. Conducted March 5-7, this exercise was the largest one held yet, with close to 400 people participating in the intense, two-day event.
NERRTC was chosen by the Texas Division of Emergency Management (DEM) to design and deliver the Texas WMD/Terrorism Incident Exercise Program. Seven exercises were conducted last year; 13 are scheduled for 2002. Because the program receives state and federal funding, the NERRTC courses are provided at no cost to the participants.
“Our program is designed to help prepare jurisdictions to conduct the necessary consequence management functions after a terrorist WMD (weapons of mass destruction) attack,” says Bill May, NERRTC Director. “The response has been tremendous.”
Following the exercise, participants evaluate their operations and often make significant improvements to Emergency Response Plans.
Since it was created in 1998, NERRTC has delivered over 500 WMD/Terrorism Incident Courses nationally to over 16,000 emergency responders in 1,500 communities around the country. NERRTC delivers 12 WMD-terrorism-related courses.