Test at APG causes flood of 911 calls

Noise from blast heard from Aberdeen to Bel Air

February 27, 2003|By Lane Harvey Brown | Lane Harvey Brown,SUN STAFF

An unannounced test yesterday at Aberdeen Proving Ground sent dozens of Harford County residents scrambling to call 911 after noise from the sizable explosion rumbled across neighborhoods from Aberdeen to Bel Air.

"People have a heightened sensitivity because of terrorist activities," said APG spokesman George Mercer. "They heard this and said, `Oh, my God, something bad is happening.'"

Emergency dispatchers in Hickory, Bel Air, Aberdeen, Edgewood, Havre de Grace and on the proving ground were flooded with calls, they said, with at least 50, Mercer said. Some callers thought it was an earthquake, snow thunder or an invasion, dispatchers said.

The test occurred at 1:10 p.m. Mercer said. The test, using a 200-pound explosive device, was designed to see if the device would detonate in a combat situation, Mercer said, and declined to elaborate further. "It is an item being tested for use in future operations," Mercer said.

The Aberdeen Test Center coordinated the test, Mercer said. Generally, the public is notified of such tests, but a notification was not made yesterday, he said.

Doug Richmond, emergency planner at the Harford Emergency Operations Center in Hickory, noted a hint of irony in the events: About a dozen APG officials were at EOC at the time of the detonation for a regularly scheduled table-top exercise to map out responses to chemical stockpile emergencies.

"Weather conditions were not conducive to keeping the noise on post," Mercer said, adding that winter temperatures, cloud cover and humidity make it tougher for the post to keep test noise to a minimum in surrounding communities.

He said the test was done downrange, away from the post boundary. A similar test scheduled for today has been postponed until tomorrow, he said.

Information: APG's public affairs office, 410-278-1147.

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