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LIVE FROM THE HEADLINES

Dirty-Bomb Drill: Rehearsing For Terror

Aired May 12, 2003 - 19:05   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Here in the United States, this question now: are Americans prepared for another terrorist attack on their own soil? Folks in Seattle today had a front row seats to see what would happen if a radioactive or dirty bomb hit the U.S. It's phase one of the nation's largest homeland security drill ever.
CNN's Jeanne Meserve was there and she joins us live with what officials learned -- Jeanne.

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, some of the most important aspects of this exercise are being played out in emergency command centers here in Washington state and in Washington, D.C. That's where we're really going to find out whether or not the gears of our homeland security apparatus mesh or if they do not.

What's happening here in this field behind me is described as the half time show. It's sort of the eye candy for the cameras, though local officials say lessons are being learned here as well.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MESERVE (voice-over): The simulated explosion of a dirty-bomb, just a few miles from downtown Seattle. Within 10 minutes, the first firefighters are on the scene. Within an hour, radiation has been detected and rescue personnel have been moved back and properly outfitted and equipped. The radioactive plume is being tracked and the injured are being attended to.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Officers are in there, they've established a command post. They've established communication with our fire department. They're doing triage. We've got a decontamination site set up.

MESERVE: To test their capability to deal with a mass casualty incident, local hospitals saw a flood of actors portraying the dead and injured. There, too, a major piece of the drill was dealing with the effects of the notional radioactive contamination.

Two hours in, the deputy police chief said there had been an exemplary response and an illuminating one.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're learning things every minute this is going on. We're learning things about communication, we're learning things about interoperatability, we're learning things about the decision-making process, about field commanders and policymakers. (END VIDEOTAPE)

MESERVE: Before this exercise began, everybody knew the location and the timing and even the mode of attack. That's not real life, of course, and some people said it degraded the value of this exercise.

People running the exercise say they have tried to inject some unexpected elements into the exercise. But I talked to one homeland security official today who said when truly unexpected things happened, officials seem to have a difficult time re-adjusting. And he questioned the utility of an exercise that is so intensely, as he put it, "prescripted."

Anderson, back to you.

COOPER: All right. Jeanne Meserve, thanks very much.

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