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Fairgrounds could be refuge in terror attack { February 8 2004 }

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   http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A22469-2004Feb7.html

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A22469-2004Feb7.html

Terror Plan Puts Frederick on Spot
Fairgrounds Could Be a Refuge

By David Snyder
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 8, 2004; Page C01


The scenario is among a disaster planner's worst nightmares: A terrorist attack forces hundreds of thousands of residents to flee a major city, in this case Washington or Baltimore. A crush of panicked motorists overwhelms interstate highways. Traffic grinds to a halt as the hordes desperately seek shelter and medical help.

Under a detailed emergency plan called the Genesis Project, drafted by the Frederick County sheriff and other members of a local committee, the sick and injured would end up at the 64-acre Frederick Fairgrounds. The site, in the heart of the city of Frederick, would be converted into a mass-casualty treatment and decontamination center, handling perhaps thousands of refugees from either of Frederick's big municipal neighbors.

The fairgrounds' parking lots would become triage centers, according to the plan.

Livestock barns would become morgues.

Drawn up in secret by Sheriff James W. Hagy and others in a group that dubbed itself the Nuclear Subcommittee, the plan has not been unveiled for the public. But it has been quietly shown to more than 75 people, mainly state and local officials, some of whom, in interviews, called the Genesis Project "ludicrous" and "dangerous."

Several critics, including Frederick Mayor Jennifer P. Dougherty (D), complained of being excluded from the planning process and warned that an onslaught of wounded people would overwhelm the city and its 130-member police force and create a public health hazard.

John L. Thompson Jr. (R), president of the Board of County Commissioners, said the Nuclear Subcommittee -- made up of Hagy and the members of the county's Local Emergency Planning Committee -- have "gone well beyond their statutory authority."

"They picked the ball up and ran for a touchdown -- and they kept running on out of the stadium, like Forrest Gump," Thompson said. He said the local committee exists to "plan for nonsecret, run-of-the-mill accidents." By joining Hagy in drafting the ambitious Genesis Project, Thomas said, committee members went "well beyond their role."

Hagy defended the decision not to seek advice from the public or other officials in drafting the plan, which was about two years in the making.

"If you tell the public, you tell the terrorists at the same time," Hagy said. If the Genesis Project gets a lot of public attention, he said, terrorists may also strike Frederick, hoping to disrupt the Genesis Project. "All those terrorists were educated right here in our own country, or a lot of them were," Hagy said. "We're not talking about stupid people here."

County Commissioner Michael L. Cady (R), a Hagy supporter, agreed with the sheriff's approach. "There are some things in homeland security that are not for public consumption," he said. "How many teams in the NFL hand over their playbook to the enemy?"

A person who was briefed on the Genesis Project and disagrees with the secrecy gave a reporter a copy of a 54-page plan that details how the fairground would be turned into an emergency center, with helicopter pads, hospital wards, decontamination rooms, latrines, communications posts, food storage and distribution systems and dorms for doctors and nurses.

Where the money would come from to finance the plan is unclear. Authorities familiar with the plan, including the sheriff, declined to discuss the issue, and other officials in Frederick said they are not sure how the supplies needed to carry out the Genesis Project would be paid for and stockpiled. It also is unclear what approval process, if any, the plan must be subjected to. And no one can say for sure whether it would work.

Dennis R. Schrader, director of Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s Office of Homeland Security, said he is familiar with the Genesis Project but has taken no position on it.

"I suggested that if they want to move forward on this and get the state's thoughts that they should have a public hearing first to make sure everybody's on board," Schrader said.

County commissioners in March appointed Hagy "incident commander" in case of a weapon of mass destruction incident, giving him authority to draw up plans for a response to a terrorist attack. His appointment was bitterly contested, but it passed by a 3 to 2 vote, with Thompson and Commissioner Jan H. Gardner (D) opposing it.

Gardner and Thompson said the county's director of emergency management should oversee the response to such an incident. But Hagy's backers argued that an attack using weapons of mass destruction would be a crime, so a law enforcement official would be best qualified to take charge.

When the Nuclear Subcommittee began meeting, the group realized that if a large-scale terrorist attack occurred in Washington or Baltimore, interstate highways leading to Frederick would be jammed with evacuees, and the county should be prepared, according to the plan.

However, "in order to pick an evacuation site that could treat the victims of some mass-casualty attack, we would have to have many more people involved in the site selection and logistics," Dougherty said. "We're not talking about a secret location for a continuation of government. We're talking about people that might be affected by an attack."



2004 The Washington Post Company



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