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The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

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Officials test state’s ability to fight bioterrorism

Wisconsin workers got a frightening look at terrorism Wednesday as they tested the state’s ability to protect public safety in the case of a biological terrorism attack on Madison.

About 100 “players” from 18 agencies took part in a bio-terrorism exercise that simulated an outbreak of a highly- contagious plague.

Participants represented the Department of Health and Family Services and the Department of Transportation and Tourism and even included Madison’s FBI agent.
The exercise required state officials to deal with a simulated bioterrorism attack.

Participants were given a scenario in which 20 people had died and 200 were infected with pneumonic plague. Players were told more than 2000 people had been tested for the disease. In the scenario, most of those affected were UW-Madison students.

For the next four hours, participants dealt with the simulated outbreak by taking phone calls, contacting federal agencies for supplies and calling a state emergency to close all exits on Madison freeways.

“We’re working through the issue as if it were really happening,” Ed Gleason, the administrator of Wisconsin Emergency Management said. “I walked out of [the exercise room] and it was like a breath of fresh air. I really got myself immersed.”

During the scenario, the room buzzed with incoming calls and constant discussion as agency members fielded questions, arranged for medical supplies and declared Madison to be in a “state of emergency.”

Wisconsin has received a total of $3.7 million in federal funding for terrorism preparedness. In February 2002, $2.6 million in grants to the county went to purchase emergency equipment for distribution to local law enforcement, fire departments, and public works and public health departments.

Mike Kaminski, representative for the U.S. Department of Justice, said the best way to deal with potential threats is to be prepared.

“You can’t do enough of these exercises,” Kaminski said. “We’re constantly exercising and improving our response capability.”
The setup served the state agencies by making a conceptual scenario real, administrators said.

“People actually call in and ask questions of the Health Department and other agencies. Everyone is faced with difficult decisions like whether to close down schools or restrict people from leaving the city,” Gleason said. “We’re on a constant cycle of planning, training and exercising. We’re taking an active role in terrorism preparedness.”

The exercise was part of a continuing process to assess Wisconsin’s terrorism preparedness, officials said. In October, Wisconsin became the tenth state to receive federal approval of a statewide terrorism preparedness plan. They also received a $300,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice to assist with administrative and technical costs.

Steve Marshell, a coordinator for the bioterrorism preparedness, said UW has a separate plan to deal with any potential threat of terrorism. Marshell said the players established contacts with the university and simulated updates.

“The UW has their own emergency management plan, but we have had simulated phone calls to keep in contact with them,” Marshell said.
Wisconsin plans to continue the preparedness effort with a full-scale chemical exercise scheduled for May 16.

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