Mass. city makes game plan for a disaster
Drill tests responses to terrorist attack at St. Vincent
By Scott J. Croteau
Telegram & Gazette (Massachusetts)
Copyright 2007 Worcester Telegram & Gazette, Inc.
All Rights Reserved
WORCESTER, Mass. — A large aerial map of the area around St. Vincent Hospital was displayed on a table. Small toy firetrucks, police cars and ambulances rested on different sections of the city on the map.
Safety personnel inside a conference room at the Worcester Hotel & Conference Center on Lincoln Street moved around the map, tracked information and listened as calls came over the radio.
They were preparing and coordinating a response during a mock emergency. The scenario for the drill: A terrorist drove up the train tracks near Thomas Street and into the tunnel underneath the hospital.
The terrorist then slammed the truck full of explosives into an oncoming train full of coal. The tunnel collapsed. Part of the hospital collapsed. There were several hundred casualties.
If the event were real, those toy cars on a map would be real vehicles on the streets responding to the major catastrophe.
The training drill, called a functional tabletop exercise, was funded by roughly $70,000 in Homeland Security money. About 150 people from local, state and federal organizations, including hospitals, the local railroad lines and private organizations, participated yesterday.
"We're hoping if an incident of this magnitude happens, we'd be able to draw on the training and knowledge we gained from this," District Fire Chief Frank D. DiLiddo III. "We do come away from this with valuable information."
Working with a private consulting firm, District Fire Chief Walter C. Giard and police Lt. William A. Trotta scripted yesterday's drill. But safety responders didn't know what was going to happen beforehand and received updates throughout the roughly six-hour drill.
Students from Durfee High School in Fall River did live newscasts about the situation projected onto a screen in the main room.
The city has plans to respond to a major catastrophe, officials said. The drill put the plans to the test.
"The exercise will reveal the shortfalls," said Lt. Trotta, the department's Homeland Security coordinator. "Once we find the shortfalls, we revisit our plan and we rewrite the sections that need improvement."
The city needs to know the amount of resources available to it and how fast it can respond.
"We never wait for the event to happen to try to answer these questions," Lt. Trotta said. "The eleventh hour is not the time to get acquainted."
Police Sgt. Kerry F. Hazelhurst, the police spokesman, said he would release information to the media to notify people about what was happening. The training exercises with large-scale terrorist attacks are conducted in communities across the country since the Sept. 11 attacks.
"We have to train annually on these types of disasters," he said. "We have to be prepared and all agencies involved have to be on the same page."
Edward McNamara, executive director of the Central Massachusetts Emergency Medical Services Corp., said a tabletop drill in which a fictitious dirty bomb was set off in Worcester and West Boylston took place last week.
Tabletops drills eventually turn into life-size drills, and one will occur this summer, he said.
Nicole Valentine, director of emergency services for American Red Cross of Central Massachusetts, said her agency would be called on to provide food, cots, blankets and other necessities for responders and victims.
Many officials interviewed yesterday also said the drill helps people get to know each other before and disaster.