MADELEINE BRAND, host:
Back now with Day To Day. Here's a scary scenario. Multiple terrorist attacks in the Pacific Northwest. Several hijacked planes flying over the United States, and a major hurricane approaching the East Coast.
ALEX CHADWICK, host:
Well happily it's only pretend. It was for a training exercise for the U.S. military and dozens of Federal and state agencies. They were testing how the U.S. Northern Command in Colorado Springs might deal with a major terrorist attack.
BRAND: NPR's defense correspondent Guy Raz was at the headquarters of U.S. Northern Command to watch what happened.
GUY RAZ: Its 7:30 in the morning, and the highest ranking military and civilian officials in charge of protecting North America are gathering in a room to begin the morning crisis meeting. This is U.S. Northern Command headquarters in Colorado Springs, and the underground briefing room is called the Battle Cab. The news channel everyone's watching is called the World News Network, and it's about to break a big story.
(Soundbite of simulated news)
Male Voice: We have breaking news at this hour. Just moments ago a large explosion rocked the Seattle waterfront near the state ferry terminal. Initial reports...
Mr. RAZ: Now in case you're just joining this story, that was a fake news cast. The network's called WNN, and it's a simulated 24 hour cable news channel run by the Department of Defense. The station is reporting a remarkable convergence of events, all happening simultaneously. And it's all being followed by the stern faced generals, and colonels, and government agents surrounded by television and computer screens here at U.S. Northern Command.
Here's what they know so far. Terrorists have set off truck bombs loaded with a deadly chemical agent across the Pacific Northwest. As many as six commercial planes have been hijacked, two have already been shot down, and to top it off, a category four hurricane is approaching Washington, D.C. Could it happen?
General VICTOR "GENE" RENUART (Commander, U.S. Northern Command Headquarters): I think prudence tells you, you have to expect it could occur.
RAZ: This is General Gene Renuart, the man ultimately responsible for the security of the United States.
Gen. RENUART: Can I put a time line on it? I know that terrorist organizations are trying increasingly to find a way in.
RAZ: Renuart's on a plane flying from North Com headquarters in Colorado, headed out to Washington State. He's going to check out the simulations, and how all the myriad Federal and state agencies are handling the various crisis scenarios. Renuart's reputation's on the line, in the event of a catastrophic event in the United States he'll be in charge of mustering all the military resources available.
Along a makeshift conveyer belt, a marine chemical and biological unit out of Maryland is working on decontaminating those exposed to the chemical. In the exercise, a plume of chemical laden smoke is floating over Seattle. Hundreds are already dead. About 10,000 wounded. Lieutenant Colonel Mike Rofsig, the battalion commander, says his unit can be on a plane, on route to the site of a chemical attack anywhere in the country within two hours.
Lieutenant Colonel MIKE ROFSIG (Battalion Commander): In this instance right here is approximately 200 casualties some of them as we identify them we were not able to save them. They were casualties when we showed up, and everybody else we've brought out through the decontamination line.
RAZ: Nearby, General Gene Renuart walks through the simulated disaster site. Over the past two days in this exercise, he's had to make some tough calls. The decision to shoot down two hijacked airplanes, for example. He's been running Northern Command for 15 months. The Command was criticized recently in a government report. According to the Government Accountability Office, North Com hasn't done a good job in coordinating its emergency plans with the states. Renuart says North Com's getting better at it, and its studying the mistakes made during Hurricane Katrina.
Gen. RENUART: No real world crisis will always be as smooth as you hope, but I am conformable that we have come so far down the road since Katrina in building the planning capability, that we'll be very effective.
RAZ: Guy Raz, NPR news.