GUAM – KaBOOM!
Exercise managers for the Vigilant Guard homeland security exercise added realism, Sept. 16, 2008, by blowing up balloons filled with explosive gas.
They tested the balloons today. Tomorrow the noisemakers will prompt police swat teams to move in on a suspected fake terrorist hideout at a hotel. Along with phony blown up cars, it’s all been fabricated by the National Guard’s civilian exercise managers.
Vigilant Guard began Sept. 12, 2008, with a regional tabletop exercise at the Guam Guard’s Joint Forces Headquarters. It continues through this week, culminating with a simulated terrorist attack on the island’s Tumon Beach, which is a popular tourist and vacation spot.
The whole purpose, said officials, is to test the Guard’s capabilities and abilities as a first military responder in support of the governor and the Guam Emergency Management Agency after a terrorist attack. Many local, federal, military and civilian agencies are participating.
Officials said the response exercise will start 2 a.m. on, Sept. 17, 2008. After the Guam swat teams do their thing, more explosions will initiate the full-scale exercise. Two Guard weapons of mass destruction-civil support teams from Guam and Hawaii will respond, among many other special units and operators. Arizona, Nevada and California Guardmembers are also participating.
“[The only way to] challenge any first responder is to make it as real as it gets,” said Toves, an exercise director responsible for training the CSTs.
Toves and others were setting up the notional training site at a vacant high school near the beach. The exercise scenario mixes terrorists with a conference at a beachside hotel.
“A [tractor trailer] truck blows up along with a flatbed filled with chlorine gas cylinders,” said Toves.
Role players were brought in to act as injured conferees who were forced from the building by the terrorists and into the exploding truck. The team’s explosive balloons provide the sound effects while a wrecked truck in the school parking lot as well as discarded gas cylinders, cement rubble and other bits and pieces create the scene of destruction.
There are so many working parts that Toves said it was important to conduct a test to ensure everything worked safely.
“A good deal of it is actually real,” said Mark Beirne, president of the Emergency Response Training Institute that worked with Toves to prepare the site.
Like movie-set craftsmen, they even replicated hotel rooms filled with fake personal belongings and simulated bomb-making equipment. They made a phony conference room with posters, chairs, and tables. A rubble pile of cement and rebar was trucked in and dumped in the parking lot to simulate a collapsed building.
“That all provides a great benefit for the folks using our props because they can’t be cavalier,” said Beirne. “There are real issues here, so it makes for great training.”