Ariz. will be ‘target’ in terrorism attack drill

Paul Giblin, Tribune

Dozens of federal, state, tribal and local governments will be drawn into a simulated dirty-bomb attack in the Valley later this month, part of an international exercise that’s intended to help authorities prepare for terrorist strikes and other major emergencies.

The congressionally mandated program is called Topoff 4, government shorthand for Top Officials 4.

The exercise will be conducted at the “functional” level, meaning thousands of top level decision-makers will respond to the simulated disaster in real time, making what would be life-and-death decisions if the event was real.

However, front-line police officers, firefighters and other emergency responders will not be deployed, so the exercise should be invisible to the public, at least in Arizona.

The drill, which will run Oct. 15-19, will involve a simulated multifaceted threat that will strike Arizona, Oregon and Guam simultaneously or nearly simultaneously. Oregon and Guam authorities will operate at the “full-scale” level, which will involve first-responders. Those simulated attacks should take on a more realistic appearance.

U.S. Department of Homeland Security officials, who are running the program, are withholding most details of the drill until they are put into play in each location, in order to keep the participants guessing.

The Topoff series of drills is designed to test national preparedness, U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said in a statement.

“By responding realistically to these simulated attacks, we’re able to identify our strengths and weaknesses,” he said.

Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom will run related activities during the exercise.

This much is known: The Arizona scenario will involve at least one simulated dirty bomb, a weapon that uses conventional explosives laced with radioactive material. A blast from such a device would kill people in the immediate area and spread radioactive contamination around an area the size of several city blocks.

No actual explosives or radioactive material will be on site.

Arizona authorities will be required to make strategic decisions to respond to the faux attack. Theoretically, testers could complicate their jobs by adding additional elements, such as secondary attacks, eliminating certain communications systems or providing false information.

The drill will provide shortterm practical benefits in Arizona as authorities prepare for the Super Bowl, said Leesa Berens Morrison, director of the state Department of Homeland Security.

The National Football League’s championship game will be staged in Glendale in February.

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