Frederick might be post-terror haven

Fairgrounds proposed as site for aiding injured from Baltimore, D.C.

March 26, 2004|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,SUN STAFF

FREDERICK - They call themselves the Nuclear Subcommittee. Their work - code named "the Genesis Project" - was unveiled last night at a crowded public meeting and deals with a frightening scenario.

The goal, these Frederick County officials said in explaining their year of effort, was to prepare for what they say will be an inevitable influx of wounded and perhaps blinded victims of a nuclear, chemical or biological attack on Baltimore or Washington.

"I am not convinced that a terrorist is going to work on our schedule," Frederick County Sheriff James W. Hagy told a crowd packed into a county government hearing room in downtown Frederick. "They could very well do something today, and we need to be able to respond today."

Hagy said he and the other law enforcement officials, fire and rescue personnel, elected leaders and private citizens on the Local Emergency Planning Committee considered it their responsibility to make sure Frederick was ready for the human fallout from such an attack. Given that responsibility, Hagy said, his group decided to "listen to the experts, develop a plan and go with it until we have something better."

The Genesis Project calls for setting up at the Frederick County fairgrounds a facility capable of triage, quarantine and, if necessary, decontamination of victims suffering the effects of radiation.

They have made arrangements to have on hand protection kits for law enforcement personnel, medications and vaccinations that might be needed and more radiation-detection devices than New York City, according to Dr. John Vitarello, a cardiologist at Frederick Memorial Hospital and a radiation safety officer licensed by the Maryland Department of the Environment.

Disputing what he said was "misinformation" in news reports, Vitarello said Frederick County would not advertise itself as the evacuation center for anyone seeking medical treatment in the wake of an attack on Baltimore or Washington.

Rather, he said, the plan is meant to prepare the county and its only hospital to help the 40,000 Frederick residents who work in the nation's capital every day and might try to get home after a terrorist attack.

The plan is also meant to address the needs of people whom Vitarello characterized as "the walking wounded" - those who will follow natural evacuation routes out of Washington or Baltimore and head toward Frederick to get away from an attack.

"These people will be coming here uninvited," he said. "Everyone says, `Why use Frederick?' Because they will be coming this way."

Although Michael Hanna, chairman of the local emergency planning committee, stressed that his group used little of the $300,000 allotted for terrorist preparedness by the county, the total cost to implement the chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear response plan is $7.6 million, according to a copy of the plan dated February and distributed last night.

It was unknown whether the money would come from local, state or federal governments.

Frederick's county commissioners directed the sheriff last year to coordinate the county's emergency operations plan.

Critics have questioned the plan's feasibility and its apparent lack of coordination with other regional and state authorities that meet regularly to plot responses to all varieties of terrorist attacks and disasters.

"This plan runs counter to all the other existing plans," Frederick Mayor Jennifer P. Dougherty said in an interview yesterday. "Nobody has mentioned that they're going to evacuate anyone or anything to the Frederick County Fairground. The other counterintuitive element is you don't evacuate contaminated people to a population center. You evacuate them to an unpopulated area."

The mayor also has complained that she was not involved with or consulted by the committee that drafted the Genesis Project, noting that her exclusion ignores her city's pivotal role in the plan's execution. The fairground is within the Frederick city limits.

Dennis R. Schrader, head of the state's Office of Homeland Security, has said that he was aware of the plan but that he has taken no position on it.

Sun staff writer Lynn Anderson and the Associated Press contributed to this article.

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