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Terror in Redwood City: Emergency drill prepares for terrorist attack
May 19, 2010, 01:04 AM By Michelle Durand Daily Journal Staff

Andrew Scheiner/Daily Journal Nicholis Brown participated in a disaster preparedness drill on Tuesday at the Port of Redwood City.

The explosion that broke yesterday morning’s quiet at the Port of Redwood City was little more than a quick bright flash and billowing plume of black smoke rising up beyond a row of trees.

What did not dissipate quickly, though, was the unexplained blow-up’s fallout — first responders staging areas to assess the injured, hundreds of military and public safety members trying to contain a fire and chemical release and bloodied and battered people strewn in the mud around the Cemex facility.

Those on the ground didn’t know yet what had happened — the 10 a.m. explosion was actually the second terrorist attack which, coupled together, blew up a ship and collapsed a building — but they knew they needed help.

A stick piercing Lauren Fehd’s lung left the 18-year-old worried that her 8-month-old fetus was in distress. Pamela Brown, 25, jumped out a second-story window to escape the building but was also wheezing and blistered from the chemical release. Joan Kyle, 26, was hit on the head by a rock but, while digging Fehd and Brown from the rubble, faced an unexpected danger. It was a snake, which gouged a wound in her arm.

"Wait — you saved us? That is awesome!,” said Brown after hearing Kyle tell her story.

Kyle double-checked her story card on a lanyard around her neck.

Yep, in yesterday’s mock terrorism drill, the three women survived, albeit in need of serious help.

But in helping victims like the trio, emergency personnel from local, state and federal were the ones being aided. The simulated response exercise known as Golden Guardian was one of several statewide testing local reaction to terrorist attacks at various ports, including Redwood City. Past drills have included disease and natural disasters.

California Emergency Management Agency Secretary Matthew Bettenhausen said the drills are also reminders to the greater public to be prepared for 72 hours, including an escape route from the home and knowing where to find gas and water meters.

The annual event started in 2004 under Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger who was invited to the Redwood City exercise but could not attend.

The governor’s absence was barely noticeable in the sea of roughly 400 participants, including members of the national guard, Air Force, CalEMA and public safety organizations throughout the Peninsula.

Camouflage-clad soldiers and military vehicles rumbled down Seaport Boulevard just outside the Pacific Shores Center. Elsewhere in the state, a terrorist attack on a container ship at the Port of Oakland caused a hazardous plus that resulted in an evacuation. At Pier 48 in San Francisco, divers used the Navy Marine Mammal Program which uses dolphins to recover an explosive device. A dirty bomb and shooters rocked the campus of California State University San Marcos and hostages were taken after a terrorist group took over a Catalina Express ferry boat moored at Long Beach Ferry Terminal.

Back in Redwood City, though, some of the affected had concerns other than their immediate safety — primping. As orange-vested organizers placed actors and explained nuances of their individual symptoms — lethargic means tired, one explained to a woman who wasn’t quite sure how to act — bandages were adjusted and bruises touched up. A smiling woman with blood stains running down her sweatshirt applied blood to the back of another while one nearby man looked less successful in surviving the collapse. He had an angry looking gash across his throat and ghostly white face.

Paul Cramer, 24, freshened up his injuries with a spray bottle of fake blood while his roommate Teddy Vigil, 24, was on the ground with a gnarled foot underneath a piece of Hertz equipment.

Vigil said he was hit by a car, leaving him unable to walk and unconscious. Like the others in the simulation, though, he had been there since 6 a.m. and had been warned to expect an 11-hour day. The actors had answered casting calls on Craigslist and the simulation followed three days of practice, according to Fehd.

Although Tuesday’s drill was simulated, officials said the scenarios and the actors help emergency personnel know how to react if a real situation comes to pass.

"It’ s so easy to forget ... how important this is. The events in New York City a few weeks ago remind us of how important this is,” said Redwood City Mayor Jeff Ira.

Michelle Durand can be reached by e-mail: michelle@smdailyjournal.com or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 102.  

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