Firefighters, National Guard troops and emergency workers descended on the Transamerica Pyramid on Sunday to practice saving lives and untangling communication during a hypothetical terrorist attack.
About 200 people took part in the half-day simulation of a chemical agent attack on The City’s most recognizable building, officials said. Volunteers painted with faux blood and covered with soup made to look like vomit were shuttled to safety and given medical aid.
The drill was the second this year and utilized homeland security funds, San Francisco Fire Department Lt. Ken Smith said. A similar drill on Feb. 27 tested emergency preparedness at AT&T Park. Training for potential terrorist attacks is very different from training to respond to other kinds of emergencies, Smith said. Coordinated communication is essential, and practice is critical.
“We’re so used to going in and taking care of the problem. That’s our style. In this instance, we have to pull back and call in our resources,” Smith said.
The drill kicked off with a dramatic call to authorities — a silver sport utility vehicle packed with chemical weapons and explosives had blown up in the parking garage of the 853-foot office building.
Responding firefighters found multiple casualties and called in the hazardous materials team. When the team couldn’t identify the chemicals used in the attack, the California National Guard was alerted.
“It sounds complicated, but it would probably take two to three minutes to make those calls,” said Lt. Donald Nodora of the Guard’s 95th Civil Support Team.
Based in Hayward, the team assesses chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear agents in its mobile lab, advises local authorities and decontaminates victims. Its Unified Command Suite — a mobile unit that resembles a delivery truck — can patch into virtually any communication system in the world to coordinate with other emergency workers. The Transamerica building was chosen for Sunday’s drill based on the building management’s cooperation and the challenges of coordinating a mass rescue in a high-rise office building, Smith said.
Deputy Bill Havlic, western states commander of the Civil Support Readiness Directorate under Army North, based out of San Antonio, said the exercise wasn’t based on a specific threat against the Transamerica Pyramid. Any recognizable structure in a city becomes a natural target, however, he said.
“Destroy something that nobody cares about and nobody is going to care. Destroy the Pyramid or the Golden Gate Bridge, and you’ll get attention,” Havlic said.
The Transamerica Pyramid removed its public observation deck following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, according to building management.