OEM Conducts Largest Terrorism Exercise in County's History

Simulates Chemical Attack at Mineola Courthouse

By Carisa Keane

Initially dispatched as a mass casualty incident at South and Washington Avenues in the early morning hours of April 17, numerous emergency agencies across the county made their way to the scene - the Nassau County Supreme Courthouse.

Additional information indicated a problem in the building. A fatal chemical released into the air claiming dozens of "victims," including local Boy Scouts who lay nauseous, dizzy and unconscious on the front lawn when local police, fire and EMS workers rushed to the scene.

The Office of Emergency Management conducted the mock disaster, dubbed Operation Unity, to demonstrate how multiple agencies, primarily first responders, communicate and manage a disaster. The MIS/WMD (Mass Casualty Incident/Weapons of Mass Destruction) drill proved to be the largest terrorism exercise in the county's history.

"The health, safety and well-being of our residents are our top priorities. Nothing is more important than protecting our citizens and ensuring that, should an emergency arise, we are prepared to respond quickly and effectively. A training exercise like this will allow us to continue to enhance our ability to respond to medical emergencies and disasters, including terrorist attacks," County Executive Tom Suozzi noted.

Upward of 100 volunteers posed as victims while approximately 200 first responders took part. Resources from New York City, including FDNY Haz Mat, Westchester and Suffolk, also attended.

County agencies and police and fire departments were dispatched to the incident. Nassau County Police's Emergency Service Unit (ESU), the county's Bomb Squad, Fire Marshal Haz Mat and a slew of local fire departments, including Hicksville, Stewart Manor, Carle Place, West Hempstead, Westbury, Garden City, Melville, Huntington, Mineola, Garden City Park and New Hyde Park, among several others, participated.

"It is crucial for Nassau County to continue to plan and drill. Sunday's effort was an important step and dedicated professionals carried it out. Everyone who participated is to be congratulated," Senator Michael Balboni, a member of the Senate Task Force on State and Local Emergency Preparedness, said.

In late 2002, Suozzi established the Office of Emergency Management with the mission of coordinating the county's efforts during emergencies and disasters. OEM is responsible for the mitigation, response and recovery efforts associated with any natural, technological or civil hazard that has the potential to affect Nassau County. Through many planning and preparedness initiatives, like the April 17 exercise, the staff at OEM remains vigilant in preparing the county's government and residents should any type of disaster occur.

As with every drill, however, Senator Balboni added that there were areas uncovered that need to be addressed. "Without question, the biggest problem that was cited on Sunday was the lack of interoperable communications - that is, the inability of one radio system to communicate with another radio system. This is a real gap and needs to be addressed as soon as possible."

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