By Pat Jenkins
Personnel from Pierce Transit and first-responder agencies, including Graham Fire and Rescue and the Pierce County Sheriff Department, participated in a terrorist-response exercise in Spanaway and another county location this month as training to sharpen their reactions in case the real thing ever occurs.
Scenarios of simulated attacks June 12 on passengers in transit buses were carried out in two locations – Sprinker Recreation Center and the Washington State Fairgrounds in Puyallup.
More than 60 volunteers played the roles of passengers. A bombing of a bus was simulated at Sprinker, while terrorists taking passengers hostage was the scenario at the fairgrounds.
Officials said the use of volunteers enabled first-responders to more realistically respond to the victims of the bus “explosions.” With the help of makeup and dramatic effect, the faux victims exhibited injuries and shock while being helped by rescuers.
In the parking lot at Sprinker, authorities pretended a bomb had just exploded and that another bomb was found. Multiple casualties were simulated, and as first responders showed up on the scene, they deployed a bomb-disarming robot and bomb-sniffing dogs while also attending to the victims.
In Puyallup, the “hijacked” bus became the scene of hostage negotiations and a SWAT response. First-responders “worked on neutralizing the bad guys and assisting the multiple victims,” a spokesman for the day’s events said.
The terrorist response exercise, funded by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, was the culmination of 16 months of training, drills and tabletop exercises with Pierce Transit. Participating agencies practiced their emergency responses in order to better know each other’s skills, resources and assets, as well as to practice communications between each agency, officials said.
The news media was invited by officials to view and report on the simulated attacks and responses.
More than 300 people from police, fire and related agencies participated. They included representatives from Pierce Transit, Central Pierce Fire and Rescue, Graham Fire and Rescue, King County Metro Transit Police, Pierce County’s Department of Emergency Management, Sheriff Department, Parks and Recreation (Sprinker is a county parks facility) and Type 3 Incident Management Team, the Regional Intelligence Group, South Sound 9-1-1, and the Tacoma Police Department.
The exercises came almost exactly 12 months after a similar drill was staged in Eatonville. In that one, a mock shooting and hostage situation involving schoolchildren was conducted last June.
Students pretending to be wounded by gunmen at Eatonville Middle School and held at gunpoint by a captor on a school bus were integral parts of the active-shooter drill that was funded by the federal government, coordinated by Pierce County Department of Emergency Management, and involved 10 police, fire departments and other emergency agencies, including the Sheriff Department and Eatonville’s police and fire departments.
Officials said the Eatonvlle drill’s objectives were to practice accounting for the students and staff at the school, uniting students with parents after the scenarios, emergency medical care for victims, and communications between the responding agencies.