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Drill simulates dual train bombings

(The following story by Mac Daniel appeared on the Boston Globe website on June 25.)

BOSTON -- For the first time -- only a month before the Democratic National Convention -- senior local, state, and federal safety and transportation officials held a closed-door drill yesterday at the Boston Convention Center to study a simulation of a Madrid-like bombing of two MBTA commuter trains and discuss the logistical challenges of such an attack.

Participants said the only shortfall discovered during the four-hour drill was a lack of coordinated communication among the field command centers each agency would set up around the imaginary attack.

After the exercise, which featured video of simulated smoke coming out of South Station as well as fake news reports, participants interviewed expressed confidence that Boston and the region were ready to respond should such an attack occur.

Edward A. Flynn, state secretary of public safety, said the exercise was closed to the media because of security concerns and to allow participants to feel comfortable to make and discuss mistakes.

''Obviously it would be an enormous inhibition on decision makers if they thought they were doing this in front of an audience, as opposed to just really giving it a good hard practice," Flynn said.

There was an audience, but it was made up of support staff members from the various local, state, and federal agencies.

Though it was the first state-sponsored gathering of groups from the Boston Police Department, Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, Massachusetts Turnpike Authority, Massachusetts Port Authority, Boston EMS, and others, officials said it was not coming too late to prepare. Many groups have been coordinating their emergency responses in advance of the July event. The Secret Service is sponsoring a similar exercise July 7, which will focus primarily on security around the convention, officials said.

Flynn conceded the gathering was hastily called at the request of the US Department of Homeland Security, though he added that participants were notified about one month ago.

Because of the pressures of getting ready for the convention next month, ''we were really faced with the choice of doing this in June or doing this in August and we felt by August this would be virtually a moot point, even though it could probably apply to any time," said Flynn. ''We thought it was important to get this done before the DNC."

Boston Fire Commissioner Paul Christian said some minor redundancies were discovered during the drill, but nothing major.

''I think we're much better off than we ever were," he said. ''I'm not seeing any gaps immediately."

The drill scenario involved a bomb explosion on an Attleboro-Stoughton commuter train and a simultaneous explosion on an Old Colony commuter train as it was discharging passengers at South Station. The scenario talked of multiple dead and injured, though organizers of the exercise refused to reveal the faked number.

After the explosions, similar bombs are found on a Newburyport/Rockport train and a Lowell train, both arriving at North Station.

In the exercise, panic was the response as the turnpike and interstates clogged with workers and residents fleeing the city.

In all, about 65 agencies responded to the emergency, with five different government entities -- including the MBTA and Amtrak -- directly affected by the blasts.

The federal Office of Domestic Preparedness will next issue an after-action report to all the participants, allowing changes to be made in the coming month.

Friday, June 25, 2004

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