SEATTLE - The plot went like this: Glodo, a sinister terrorist organization working from a safe house in Washington state, hatches a scheme to detonate a "dirty bomb" packed with radioactive agents in an industrial corner of South Seattle. At least 100 people are killed or critically injured, and plumes of toxic smoke fill the air for miles.
The plot was put into action yesterday as a carefully scripted terrorism drill turned a vacant lot next to a coffee-roasting plant into what looked like the set of a low-budget action film. It was part of the nation's most extensive training exercise in responding to terrorism.
The drill, which began about noon in Seattle with an explosion that was quickly followed by wailing sirens and the screams of actors playing victims, is part of a weeklong exercise involving simulated chemical and biological attacks on Seattle and Chicago.
Organized by the Department of Homeland Security at a cost of $16 million, the events are part of the first such drill since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and follow a similar but smaller exercise on the East Coast in 2000.
The exercise in Seattle yesterday, which began with what sounded like a loud display of fireworks, included a fake news crew running around frantically in the debris in search of rescue dramas as rescue workers in gas masks and protective biochemical suits rushed into the debris and onto overturned city buses.
According to the script, the attack would be followed a day later by the discovery of the terrorist safe house in Washington. The script called for Glodo to unleash a covert biological attack on Chicago that day, sending residents there to the hospital with flulike symptoms consistent with exposure to the pneumonic plague.
Chicago and Seattle volunteered for the drills, and federal officials said yesterday that the government had decided to pick one West Coast city and one city in the middle of the country.
"Seattle and Chicago are among the top urban areas we're concerned about," said Michael F. Byrne, director of the Office of National Capital Region Coordination for the Department of Homeland Security. A retired New York City Fire Department captain, he has experience in the World Trade Center terrorist attacks of 1993 and 2001 in New York.
Seattle, which has a population of about 563,000, major ports, oil refineries and hydroelectric plants, large companies such as Microsoft Corp. and the landmark Space Needle, is an alluring terrorist target, officials said. But law enforcement officials emphasized that no credible terrorist threats to the area have been uncovered.
"This is an important day for Seattle and for our country," said Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels, adding that he expects other cities to learn from the staged events.
"We are working hard toward achieving the goal of being the most prepared city in the country," he said, adding, "Homeland security begins at home. When a disaster occurs, people do not call the White House; they call 911."
The dozens of federal, state and local agencies involved spent 18 months preparing for this week's exercises, which will involve 8,500 medical, police, fire, rescue and other personnel across the country, officials said.
According to the script, as soon as the bomb is detonated yesterday in Seattle, Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia activate their response systems and go into a Code Red emergency alert.
In Washington, a group of senior administration officials led by Tom Ridge, the secretary of homeland security, organized the administration's response to the fake attack in Seattle.
Ridge, who spent most of the day participating in the exercise from his offices at the department's headquarters in Washington, oversaw meetings to discuss intelligence suggesting that the fictional terrorist group was behind the attack in Seattle and might have smuggled other weapons of mass destruction into the United States.
He telephoned Seattle's mayor and the governor of Washington, and he organized a classified videoconference with other members of the Homeland Security Council, the domestic equivalent to the National Security Council.
At the same time, Chicago area hospitals begin receiving faxes about a patient who, according to the script, has checked into a hospital with a mysterious ailment.
The next day, "a growing number of patients show up at hospitals in the Chicago region suffering from flulike symptoms, including cough and fever," according to the script, and federal health officials soon determine that the city has been attacked with a biological agent.