Foon Rhee

This was a really scary terrorist attack. Good thing it was only a drill.

Urban search and rescue crews gear up before starting a drill at Sleep Train Arena on how to find and treat survivors after a “dirty” bomb explosion.
Urban search and rescue crews gear up before starting a drill at Sleep Train Arena on how to find and treat survivors after a “dirty” bomb explosion. frhee@sacbee.com

A 6.5-magnitude earthquake rocks Northern California, and authorities open a shelter at Sleep Train Arena. But then terrorists strike, pretending to bring in supplies and instead blowing up a dirty bomb inside a box truck.

It’s hard to imagine a worse scenario. But in today’s world, law enforcement officers and first responders have to prepare for it. One day, it may not be a drill.

 
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So during an all-day, full-scale exercise on Thursday, hundreds of emergency personnel gathered at the former Kings arena in Natomas and also at Sonoma Raceway, where they faced armed gunmen.

At Sleep Train, it was an eerie scene. At one point, about 50 members of state and federal urban search and rescue teams – wearing masks, boots and radiation suits – moved quickly through the smoke and darkness, trying to find 100 volunteers acting as survivors while checking radiation levels.

The hard truth is that in today’s America, we have to think about – and train for – terrorist attacks, as well as mass shootings, even in a church or school. Congregations are bringing in experts for training. Schools are on constant alert.

It was too late for Dylan Jensen, who portrayed someone with a fatal abdominal wound. He was hidden on the concourse, waiting to be found and given a black tag. Jensen, 26, who is training to be a paramedic at Sacramento State, said he hadn’t done a drill before with such a realistic looking injury. “It’s fun,” he said, so maybe he’s going into the right line of work.

Planning for the exercise took almost a year, and the goal was to make the drill as authentic and challenging as possible. Rescuers were observed and graded on how well they performed and communicated under stress.

“They’re really being tested,” Shawn Boyd, a spokesman for the state Office of Emergency Services, told me. “We want them to hone their skills now before anything happens.”

The drills also involved the California National Guard’s homeland response force, the FBI, Cal Fire and other emergency agencies. A major goal was smoother interagency cooperation, essential in a major incident.

While terrorists – foreign or domestic – haven’t used a radiological bomb yet in America, it may only be a matter of time. They have used homemade explosives (the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing), assault rifles (the 2015 San Bernardino massacre) and trucks to run down people (New York last year).

The hard truth is that in today’s America, we have to think about – and train for – terrorist attacks, as well as mass shootings, even in a church or school. Congregations are bringing in experts for training. Schools are on constant alert.

So far in 2018, there have been at least 11 school shootings, an average of nearly one a week. Since Columbine in 1999, more than 187,000 kids – an astounding number – have been exposed to gun violence at schools, according to an eye-opening report this week in the Washington Post.

So we should applaud students for being more active than ever on this issue. At schools across America on March 14, they walked out to demand action by elected officials on gun violence. On Saturday, some 500,000 people are expected for the student-led March for Our Lives in Washington, D.C.

That’s inspiring. Just maybe, all the protesting will bring big change in the long haul. But here and now, it’s about saving lives, and that means preparing for the worst.

Foon Rhee: 916-321-1913, @foonrhee

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