Calif. Launches Terrorist Drill 'Golden Guardian'

California launched a major homeland security and disaster preparedness exercise called Golden Guardian, bringing together more than 3,000 emergency responders statewide. Using make-believe bombs, the drill was real enough to show responders what they might be up against.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Emergency responders in California had to deal with something yesterday they had never faced before.

(Soundbite of commotion)

INSKEEP: What you're hearing is the aftermath of a simulated terrorist attack in Anaheim, even people being told stay together. It was part of a statewide drill that used make-believe bombs.

But as NPR's Mandalit del Barco reports, the attack was real enough to show first responders what they might be up against - someday.

MANDALIT DEL BARCO: In the parking lot of the Anaheim Angels Stadium, the detonations began.

(Soundbite of explosion)

DEL BARCO: Two cars have floated into fiery balls; broken glass and metal went flying; enormous billows of black smoke darkened the sunny sky. An overturned bus flattened a car, while another bus was charred and gutted.

It was all supposed to have been the work of a suicide bomber. Fortunately, this was just a drill, right down to the phony body parts and the make-believe victims.

Unidentified Woman #1: Help me, my face is on fire!

Unidentified Woman #2: Help me!

Unidentified Woman #3: I'm starting to get cold!

DEL BARCO: Alinisia Poke(ph) and Melissa Mao(ph) were among more than 400 volunteers who got the full Hollywood treatment, with fake blood, protruding bones and glass shards in their faces, arms and legs. Only the emergency responders were real.

Unidentified Man: We're just south of the (unintelligible) entrance.

DEL BARCO: Six minutes after the initial explosion, the first fire engine arrived. Traffic was shut down in both directions of the Orange Freeway. Police, paramedics and this reporter were checking in with the walking wounded, like another student, Nok Tran(ph).

Unidentified Woman #4: There's not enough firefighters for all these victims. There's not enough. There needs to be more.

DEL BARCO: The simulated bombing here in Anaheim was part of a statewide emergency drill known as the Golden Guardian, meant to test equipment and train first responders.

Mr. MATTHEW BETTENHAUSEN (Director, California's Office of Homeland Security): The focus this particular year is on mass transit and large gathering places.

DEL BARCO: Matt Bettenhausen heads California's Office of Homeland Security.

Mr. BETTENHAUSEN: We know al-Qaida has an interest in aviation, mass transit and maritime. You know, whether it's the 2004 attack in Spain, 2005 in London, 2006 in Mumbai, and the thwarted attacks in Germany, and the plots we've disrupted in this country targeted at mass transit. So it's important that we test it.

DEL BARCO: Bettenhausen says California already leads the nation in responding to natural disasters like earthquakes and wildfires. State and local authorities also have to work together to prevent attacks, says Anaheim Police Chief John Welter.

Mr. JOHN WELTER (Anaheim Police Department): Prevention is the key. Just about every community gets some kind of a threat from some nut. Fortunately, the vast majority of them are unfounded and not sustained.

Unidentified Man #2: Did you know I have to have the bus explode already...

Unidentified Man #3: No. I don't know anything. I need my brother.

Unidentified Man #2: Okay, sir, calm down. We'll find him, okay.

DEL BARCO: As paramedics carted imitation victims to area hospitals and Anaheim police handcuffed pretend suspects, onlooker Karen Swambas(ph) thought about real terrorist attacks around the world.

Ms. KAREN SWAMBAS: It just brings to mind everything that's going on in the Middle East and how lucky you are that you're not there. And it's right outside their front door, their business. Where here we know it's just a fake drill.

DEL BARCO: Fake or not, observers made careful notes about what went right and wrong during the staged events. And today, real-life investigators will continue looking at who and why someone might attack California, hoping that no one ever really will.

Mandalit del Barco, NPR News.

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