Drills set for today simulate attacks

Ravens Stadium to be part of exercises to prepare for possible terrorist strike

Stadiums

July 13, 2002|By Jon Morgan | Jon Morgan,SUN STAFF

Terrorist attacks on stadiums - such as ones being simulated by local authorities today in Baltimore - aren't merely figments of Hollywood's collective imagination.

Intelligence findings, including one circulated to law enforcement agencies 11 days ago, suggest that extremists may view sports facilities as tempting targets that offer a powerful combination of publicity and mass casualties.

Though there has been no indication that Baltimore's stadiums are at any particular risk, the Ravens, Air Force and University of Maryland Medical Center will conduct a number of drills with local police and fire personnel today to prepare for just such a disaster.

In the first, about 150 people will be rushed to the Medical Center pretending to be injured by an explosion and a release of toxic chemicals set off by terrorists in the parking lot of Ravens Stadium before a game. Some will be driven to Martin State Airport in Middle River, where Air Force medics will practice airborne evacuations.

Later, up to 1,000 volunteers will practice evacuations from the stadium's upper deck, first seeking shelter inside the building from a weather emergency and then, in a second drill, fleeing the building after a terrorist strike.

"If something happens, we want to be prepared for it," said Ravens president David Modell. "I saw the Clancy movie, and it took my breath away."

He referred to the current thriller The Sum of All Fears, which features a nuclear explosion detonated by terrorists at a Baltimore stadium during the Super Bowl. It is based on a 1991 book, written by Baltimore native and Orioles part-owner Tom Clancy, that was actually set in Denver.

A 1977 film, Black Sunday, portrayed international terrorists flying a bomb on the Goodyear Blimp into a Miami stadium during the Super Bowl.

The appeal to novelists and screenwriters is obvious: The Super Bowl is a quintessentially American cultural event, and football games attract large, and largely exposed, crowds. But there is reason to believe the scenario has occurred to actual terrorists as well. Several al-Qaida documents discovered in recent years have mentioned sports as targets.

An al-Qaida training manual found by police on a computer in England and excerpted by the Justice Department on its Web site lists a number of possible "missions" for operatives, including "Blasting and destroying the places of amusement."

Also, an 11-volume "Manual of Afghan Jihad," written before Sept. 11 and obtained in Pakistan by the Associated Press, specifies that, "There must be plans in place for hitting buildings with high human intensity like skyscrapers, ports, airports, nuclear power plants and places where large numbers of people gather like football grounds."

An alert sent July 2 to law enforcement agencies by the FBI said that individuals with ties to terrorist organizations had downloaded from the Internet information about stadiums around the world, including NFL facilities in Indianapolis and St. Louis, said FBI spokesman Bill Carter in Washington.

There was no specific threat or mention of a plot, he said, but the information was included in the FBI bulletin along with other unrelated intelligence finds. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch quoted the St. Louis police chief that he was told the suspicious viewing of the site - www.worldstadiums.com - did not occur in the United States.

Randall L. Larsen, a director at the Institute for Homeland Security in Arlington, Va., and a former chairman of the Department of Military Strategy and Operations at the National War College, said many of the al-Qaida writings recovered represent "think" pieces rather than actual planning documents.

But the threat is real, either from explosive or biological attack, he said. Police have uncovered suspicious interest in chemical-carrying trucks, small planes and other devices that could be used by terrorists to attack stadiums, he said.

"I think there are going to be further attacks. Are they going to be in sports stadiums? I don't know, but if anyone has 50-yard-line seats that they don't want I'll take them. The odds of you being killed in a stadium is less than being killed in a car accident," Larsen said. "You have to keep it in perspective."

Modell of the Ravens said the team has had disaster plans for years, but never conducted an actual drill with fans to test an evacuation and train ushers and other employees.

The Ravens, Orioles, and their landlord, the Maryland Stadium Authority, have taken other measures. Manhole covers around Camden Yards have been spot-welded and new concrete barriers erected to keep trucks back. The teams have imposed limitations on what can be brought into the stadium by fans and air traffic is restricted during games.

The University of Maryland Medical Center is the closest hospital to the stadiums and conducts drills regularly.

"But we have never done anything on this scale before," said spokeswoman Ellen Beth Levitt. "After Sept. 11 this has all taken on more a sense of importance."

The hospital's staff and personnel from the U.S. Air Force Medical Service, which trains at the hospital's Shock Trauma Center, will erect a triage tent and decontamination center.

The Maryland Emergency Management Agency is coordinating the drills, which will also include participants from local fire and police departments.

"I think you are smart to prepare," said Robert W. Pringle, a former CIA agent and foreign service officer who is now an adjunct professor at the University of Kentucky's Patterson School of Diplomacy. "It also warns terrorists that you are watching, and that could even prevent an attack."

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