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Nuclear bomb disaster exercise texas

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Category: Metro | State

Agencies get hand on 3-disaster exercise

By Sig Christenson
San Antonio Express-News

Web Posted : 02/20/2004 12:00 AM

Hurricane Greg made landfall at 3 a.m. Thursday south of Corpus Christi, packing sustained winds of 140 mph and a 12- to 18-foot storm surge.
An accident at the Comanche Peak nuclear plant southwest of Dallas was expected later in the afternoon, to be followed by the detonation of a suitcase nuclear bomb near Cotulla today.

All three events didn't happen, but would constitute a perfect storm of terror if they did, leaving the U.S. Northern Command and Federal Emergency Management Agency with a mess of seismic proportions.

Getting a grip on something that big is the idea of "Unified Defense 04," a disaster exercise the likes of which have never been seen until this weekend.

"What it's designed to do is really test the system, to be bigger than anything we really expect so we can see where our limits are, where we have shortfalls, what we need to work on," said Northern Command spokesman Donald W. Miles.

Unified Defense 04 is putting 50 state and federal agencies to the test in ways not previously seen. A task force involving the 5th U.S. Army, FEMA and Northern Command will evaluate computer and communications networks that are critical in such state emergencies.

Lt. Col. Kirk Frady, a 5th Army spokesman, called the drill "the mother of all exercises." But there will be no imitation mushroom clouds rising on the southern horizon, or scenes of police setting up roadblocks along Interstate 35. Most folks in San Antonio, in fact, won't notice the "disasters" as they play out in an aging wood-frame building on Fort Sam Houston.

Inside the building's second floor, about 100 people will sit in front of computers and answer phones. Some will face a big-screen TV, complete with a map that "tracks" Greg's progress or, on occasion, flips to a cable news network.

Their job will be to manage the aftermath of Greg a big job if Texas ever endures a storm approaching the vast destructive power of Hurricane Andrew.

As each incident occurs, a new field office like the one at Fort Sam will open. But because it's a test of federal and state emergency management systems, there is no certainty of how well things might go with local authorities. Local officials helped in planning Unified Defense 04, but aren't involved in it.



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