`Worst case scenario’

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 6, 2004

Suffolk News-Herald

Traffic jammed to a deadly stop in Hampton Roads Thursday morning as fireballs exploded, wiping out all the three crossings – the Monitor Merrimac Bridge Tunnel, the James River Bridge and Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel – leading out of the region.

Dozens of passengers on a Norfolk cruise ship were struck down after an explosion released deadly sarin gas. Meanwhile, at the same time, sarin and chlorine gas explosions at Richmond International Raceway and in Chesapeake respectively killed and injured thousands.

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Thankfully, these scenarios weren’t real. They were among seven scenarios played out statewide as part of Virginia’s participation in a nationwide counterterrorism exercise.

But had you been sitting in Suffolk’s Emergency Operations Center Thursday, you wouldn’t have realized it was a mock tabletop drill.

As news of the attacks was relayed into the center, two fire department employees hustled to set up tables and hook up multiple phone lines for emergency use.

Across the room, Capt. James T. Judkins, the city’s emergency services coordinator, fielded calls with the latest updates on emergencies across Hampton Roads. Between calls, he passed information to police and fire officials and city leaders.

Meanwhile, Battalion Chief Ted Adams, as he juggled a telephone at one ear and the constantly chattering police scanner at the other, called to find space and responders to begin treating the dozens wounded on the Suffolk side of the Monitor-Merrimac.

Across the room, City Manager R. Steven Herbert, Assistant City Manager Jim Vacalis and Suffolk Police Lt. Dean Smith evaluated necessary steps to protect the city’s water supplies, get emergency shelters opened and get information out to frightened citizens.

Judkins deemed the city’s work in the counterterrorism exercises, which will continue today, an overwhelming success.

&uot;When you conduct an exercise, you want to plan for the worst case scenario and hope for the best,&uot; Judkins said. &uot;If you don’t exercise to the fullest

extent of your capabilities, you don’t realize what it will take to exceed them.

&uot;…Today, we have used employees and resources to work through situations we’ve never had to work through before,&uot; Judkins said &uot;It also gave us the chance to exercise our anti-terrorism plan we have written.&uot;

Today and Saturday, participants will be evaluating the city’s responses to the terrorist situations and identifying any needed changes. That information will be funneled to state and federal emergency officials, Judkins said.