Counter-terrorism exercise to be held at Bloomsburg University

For Immediate Release

September 29, 2005

BLOOMSBURG—The Columbia County Emergency Management Agency, in conjunction with the East Central Pennsylvania Counter-terrorism Task Force, will stage a mock terrorism exercise Saturday, Oct. 15. This full-scale drill on the upper campus of Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania will integrate and test the county emergency response plan and disaster resources, according to Larry Lahiff, Columbia County Emergency Management coordinator.

Approximately 20 local agencies and 250 individuals will participate in the late-afternoon drill. Lahiff said the disaster scenario will center on the simulated detonation of a weapon of mass destruction that causes a large number of casualties. In a response coordinated by the Columbia County Emergency Management Agency, Bloomsburg University and various county emergency responders, BU police will be called to the scene first, followed by county firefighters, police and ambulance personnel. Hospitals will be placed on alert to receive and treat “victims.”

Rescue and response teams to be called after the first responders include the Minuteman Hazardous Materials Response Team and specialized rescue resources such as the East Central Task Force-sponsored Urban Search and Rescue Squad and Pennsylvania State Police Explosive Ordinance Team. Also participating are state and federal agencies including the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency’s Emergency Operations Center, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection’s Emergency Response Group, the Department of Health’s Emergency Management Team, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Contractors who specialize in response and recovery at these events will also be contacted.

“Large-scale drills are complex operations but, each time our entire emergency response community has the opportunity to get together like this, our response capability can do nothing but improve,” said Lahiff, adding that a similar drill was held at the Bloomsburg Fairgrounds in June 2004.

“Bloomsburg University’s upper campus provides an excellent setting for this exercise on a Saturday when most athletic events are being held elsewhere,” said Richard Rugen, BU’s vice president of administration and finance. “Our university police officers look forward to their role in this coordinated effort with other emergency responders.”

Cocciardi and Associates Inc., a Pennsylvania-based safety and emergency management consulting firm, planned the exercise. The local response will be evaluated by doctors and medical specialists from Philadelphia, emergency responders from Boston, New York and Washington, D.C., and former military explosive specialists, according to Dr. Joseph Cocciardi, principal of the consulting group.

Arthur Kaplan, Schuylkill County Emergency Management Agency director and chairman of the East Central Pennsylvania Counter-terrorism Task Force, said, “We have learned that we need multiple trained and credentialed resources who have practiced and played together prior to a terrorism event. That’s why we engaged a highly qualified contractor to test our system, plan a realistic scenario and bring in qualified evaluators.”

“Bloomsburg and Berwick hospitals have already practiced these procedures through on-site exercises,” added Jim Misstishin, task force program manager. “They performed particularly well and are ready to try activities in a real-world setting”.

Lahiff advised that the general public is discouraged from attending the drill, as police lines will be strictly enforced due to the classified nature of some of the actions.

Bloomsburg University is one of 14 universities in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education. The university serves approximately 8,000 students and offers 65 bachelor’s, 18 master’s and one doctoral degree.