By Brenda Flanagan
Three hours past midnight and the world’s asleep. But at the mouth of the inbound Holland Tunnel in Jersey City, all hell’s breaking loose. It’s a drill — a mock terrorist attack organized by the Port Authority set up to test first responders.
Smoke grenades explode, sirens scream as the disaster preparedness drill heats up. Just past the toll plaza, possible terrorists trigger their pretend homemade bomb on a commuter bus. Nearby organizers torch upended cars — damaged by the bomb, according to the drill script. Vehicles erupt in flames as firefighters struggle to connect a line.
“Emergency service units and the fire department are doing extrication to remove individuals trapped in the vehicles that we had pre-staged. It’s automatically treated as a crime scene until proven otherwise,” said Port Authority Emergency Readiness Manager Steven Pawlak.
“It was intense from when I saw the first car glass get blown up from the flames. I had severe neck damage, back and shoulder injury,” said Travis Greaves.
Don’t worry. Greaves is a volunteer victim — one of 20. He’s covered in fake blood.
“I was in one of the cars that actually got turned over and was on the back. So I had to make it look like I was really in a car accident,” he said.
First responders swarm the scene. They’ve been waiting at staging areas and came here from Jersey City, New York City, Hudson County, state agencies — 15 different groups are participating in this drill.
“So right now the mutual aid agencies are responded in. They’re in the process of performing triage, treatment and transport for the injured personnel,” Pawlak said.
We are 25 minutes into this exercise and so far, beyond the toll plaza five people are dead. And first responders have yet to discover that inside of a car that’s been abandoned on the side of the highway is an unexploded bomb.
The bomb squad sends its robot to investigate. While officers operate remotes, the robot pops open the car door and defuses this second device, before it explodes. Within a couple of hours, the whole scene’s secure — fatalities line the street, firefighters pick up and pack up, and judges assess performance.
“And the reason we do this — and devote so much time and energy a year in doing this — is just as in sports we find that we operate as we practice. And we think it’s critical to making sure that we’re in an optimal situation to protect public safety and to protect our facilities,” said Port Authority Executive Director Pat Foye.
“We actually get to see what really goes on. Instead of just watching what you see on the news, we get the full frontal view of everything that’s going on,” Greaves said.
Observers will gather, compare notes and issue a written report within the next 60 days.