Newark taking homeland security 'very seriously' at mock terror attack

By Luke Nozicka | For NJ.com
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on June 30, 2016

NEWARK — A car bomb goes off, collapsing the walkway between Newark Penn Station and the Gateway Center during a snowstorm. 

There are mass casualties, and the terrorist attack occurs on a busy day for the city — there is a New Jersey Devils home game, several concerts and more than a thousand elected officials in town for a conference. 

This was the mock scenario emergency responders pretended to react to Wednesday morning at the Newark Fire Department Training Academy on Orange Street, where numerous agencies joined together as part of a three-day training.

"This would be something that would shut down the city," said Casey Richardson, marketing manager of Texas A&M's Engineering Extension Service (TEEX), which had 12 trainers helping teach authorities how to respond to the mock doomsday. "And it's designed to be difficult." 

The instructional training, organizers said, allows responders to better communicate with numerous agencies at once during a large-scale attack.

Agencies on scene included New Jersey Transit, University Hospital Emergency Medical Services, Newark Fire Department and Newark police's Emergency Service Unit, said Frank Bellina, deputy coordinator of field operations and tactical training for the Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security who helped organize the simulation.

Bellina said about 55 people responded to the mock scene on Orange Street, while those back at Newark police's 5th precinct on Clinton Avenue monitored their activity in the Emergency Operations Center, watching live video to assure enough responders were on scene and that they had the proper equipment, among other things. 

The real-time simulation allowed for the department to logistically go through its planning and response process — how to bus people to warming shelters, how to allocate funds, how and when to let citizens and reporters know specific information. 

"Let's call them back and get another number before anyone goes public," one officer said during a meeting of releasing the number of casualties.

To make the fake situation as real as possible, some pretended to be injured citizens at local hospitals, news reporters and even Gov. Chris Christie.

"It was weird to talk to Christie with a Texas accent," David Lippman, senior public information officer for the city, said of a TEEX trainer who impersonated the governor.

The simulation, which took two months to plan, Bellina said, lasted about two hours as part of the three-day training with TEEX. Bellina, who worked as a firefighter for more than 30 years before becoming a deputy coordinator, said he is organizing another drill — this time a Hazmat one — for October. 

"Each time they do this, they just want to do more," Bellina said of the first responders. "Newark is definitely taking homeland security very seriously. We want to lead in homeland security."

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