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April 16, 2002
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Terrorism exercise held at state fairgrounds

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) _ More than 20 state, local and federal agencies trained together Tuesday in terrorism preparedness, responding to a mock chemical attack at the Iowa State Fairgrounds.

The scenario: a bomb planted in the Varied Industries building by a suspected terrorist had gone off, releasing a cloud of deadly nerve gas and injuring 50 people.

Since the Iowa State Patrol monitors the fairgrounds during the Iowa State Fair, the scenario used an off-season event to examine how agencies such as the Des Moines police and fire departments would react.

"It's meant to evaluate whether each agency makes the right decisions during the drill," said Gary Slater, fairgrounds manager.

"So far, I've learned that our guys could use a loud-speaking device to control the chaos," Slater said. "With so many people yelling, it was hard to hear our guys trying to control the crowd."

Emergency workers had to treat the victims while protecting themselves and others from exposure to the chemical and the risk of a second attack.

"In a nerve gas situation like this, where the chemical agent gets inside the body, HazMat has to determine what the agent is and find the antidote," said Lt. Linda Frangenberg, a training officer at the Des Moines Fire Department.

The fake victims were sent to five area medical centers to test the hospitals' ability to handle a mass influx of patients.

The drill was the area's first full-scale chemical weapons exercise under a program developed six years ago to evaluate agencies in the country's 120 largest cities. The program provided each city with $300,000 for personal protection, decontamination, and detection equipment.

"The program was created before 9-11, but since then we've seen a huge increase in people's interest and level of participation," said Kevin Fannin, who oversaw the drill for the U.S. Justice Department's Office for Domestic Preparedness.

Fannin will compile a report for participating agencies, pointing out ways they can enhance their future emergency responses.

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