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Mock attack brings out anti-terror squad

LOCAL DRILL x Fire, police responders test well, but communications issues remain to be solved, officials say

Police and fire emergency responders in Forest Grove tested well last week in response to a mock terrorism attack, but officials acknowledged countywide communication problems and coordination issues among the more than 40 agencies involved.

'There's clearly a problem with who is responsible for what and who should be communicating to whom,' said Scott Porter, director of the county's Office of Consolidated Emergency Management.

Also, he said, 'there's not enough sharing of intelligence.'

The elaborate test of county resources and skill occurred June 14. Emergency personnel from across Washington and Columbia counties responded to a series of staged attacks conducted by the fictional domestic terrorism group KAOS - which organizers said stood for 'The Knights of Anarchy Opposed to Society.'

The name was a play off the popular 1960s television show 'Get Smart.'

Starting at 9 a.m. that morning, responders being tested received reports of an explosion of the Trask Dam at the Barney Reservoir that was flooding parts of Tillamook County. In addition, there were reports of an explosion on a Tri-Met bus and a shooting in a Hillsboro retirement home. The test also involved a fake contamination of Tigard's water supply, and a fake bomb manufacturing facility in Forest Grove.

'We didn't have as flashy a drill, but our guys made really good decisions,' said David Nemeyer, Forest Grove's fire inspector.

A vacant house on Goff Road, near Tom McCall Upper Elementary School, was used to test the Forest Grove police and fire departments. Organizers created orange smoke that appeared above the house, and booby-trapped the inside with infrared beams that, if crossed, resulted in an explosion of baby powder.

'They didn't go inside. They did the right thing,' said Bill Bench, Forest Grove's Fire Marshall.

Based on information they received and the color of the smoke, the responders called a bomb squad based in Portland and were told to wait. If the building caught on fire, the responders were told, they should let the structure burn.

The Forest Grove responders didn't have the communication problems others experienced, Bench said.

'I thought we did an excellent job,' Bench said.

The entire exercise is the first time all the responders have been tested in such a hands-on way.

'Over the last few years the nation has been confronted with terrorism and a lot of focus has been on being better prepared,' Porter said, adding that it's only within the last two years that Washington County responders have focused on forming a response to a terrorism attack.

He added that it is far more likely county emergency personnel will have to respond to a natural hazard someday.

The exercise, dubbed 'TipOff' by its planners, is the precursor to a 2007 exercise in the Portland metro area that will involve federal officials in Washington D.C.

Money for the drill came from the federal Department of Homeland Security and funds from the state's Homeland Security Grant Program.

The county will study last week's exercise and issue a report at the end of July.