Video: Base Prepares for Disaster

North Island officials use a simulated terrorist attack to check their security readiness.

Update, 2:45 p.m., with more detail throughout, an outline of the days' events and quotes from officials.

It was not The Walking Dead.

But it looked a little like the popular zombie drama Thursday as North Island Naval Air Station joined Navy installations across the country in testing their emergency preparedness.

The base was the site of a sometimes very realistic looking simulation of a terrorist attack, which came complete with explosive charges, gunfire – all blanks – and an assault on the USS Princeton.

The walking wounded – one who had lost an arm – awaited treatment, while a severed limb lay in a pool of blood in a yard just beyond the shore. “Exchanges” of gunfire rang out intermittently during the two-hour exercise.

Here's a glance at the simulation, by the numbers:

  • The assault was scripted to include five terrorists, two people with blown-off limbs, three shooters killed and four civilian base workers with wounds.
  • The base prepares for four scenarios, including terrorism. The others are natural disasters, an air mishap or community emergency.
  • A 25-member team will evaluate the base's performance, prepare a report and make recommendations.

Dave Busby, who oversees training and readiness on base, said such an exercise should trigger a “muscle-memory kind of reflex” for security and medical personnel. 

Even more so, perhaps, as the simulation included prep work by Strategic Operations, a firm that staffed the speedboat that simulated the attack on the USS Princeton, complete with explosions and fiery flashes.

“It added a level of realism we haven't seen before,” Busby said.

included more than 30 exercises – most not so intense as Thursday's – across San Diego bases on Monday and Tuesday alone.

The exercises will continue through Saturday.

Some of the simulations could be linked. For instance, Brian O'Rourke, part of public affairs at Navy Region Southwest, said some people have been assigned to behave in a suspicious manner outside bases. Such an incident could lead to an attack like the one that was scripted at North Island. 

The focus, officials said, was to improve communication, coordination and the dispatching of security forces should an emergency really occur.

The event was broken into three phases:

  • An attack upon the USS Princeton by speedboat, the craft's approach to shore and a takeover of the base recycling center
  • The wait for base security forces, who take charge of the scene, and
  • The arrival of medical personnel.

One rough spot for Busby was the security response time. “They should be coming in much faster,” he muttered to another observer.

“They were a bit farther away that we thought they would be,” he said about 30 minutes later. “It's a real-world problem.”

The outlying field in Imperial Beach, part of Naval Base Coronado, also has been part of the series of readiness tests. Busby said the San Diego County Sheriffs station aided in a surveillance exercise Monday morning. 

The next big event for the preparedness program is planned for August, he said, and will focus on natural disasters. That includes wildfire scenarios similar to the calamity that hit San Diego in 2007.


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