Dress rehearsal for disaster 

Unless you want to experience the pandemonium of a devastating terrorist attack, you might want to steer clear of downtown San Francisco on Aug. 16.

In coordinating a simulated nuclear explosion in The City that Saturday morning, the Fire Department is warning residents that parts of downtown will swarm with helicopters, police patrols and FBI agents in ways that will make action-movie directors envious.

And while authorities say the exercise is necessary to prepare San Francisco for a possible terrorist incident, they say they hope residents won’t react by fleeing to the bridges in droves.

“This is going to be pretty large,” Lt. Mindy Talmadge said. “We want to make sure people are not alarmed.”

There will be two simulated nuclear attacks within a three-hour period — the first around 10 a.m. at 555 California St., the second some time later at 1 Post St., Talmadge said.

The Carnelian Room at 555 California will remain open during the exercise.

To amplify the illusion of a weekday attack, more than 100 student volunteers have signed up to play victims, Talmadge said.

Nearly 20 local and federal agencies will respond to the attacks. Agencies will not know whether the attack is a chemical release, a bomb or some other weapon of mass destruction until it is announced , Tamaldge said. Even security personnel for the buildings will take part in the exercise.

FBI Special Agent Joseph Schadler said the controlled chaos surrounding urban drills is precisely the reason they are undertaken.

“The biggest thing, and the reason we do them, is the challenge of getting 1,000 people working together,” he said. “It’s the best training you can have without actually going through a disaster, and it’s amazing to watch.”

While there are invariably hiccups in any drill this size, the crucial lifesaving efforts always take center stage, he said.

“You have all these plans and it doesn’t happen right away, but eventually everything falls into the right slots and you’re running on rails,” he said. “All the stuff that’s really the most important always happens right. The guys in suits pulling victims out always get it
done.”

All agencies will begin clearing from the area around 1 p.m., Tamaldge said.

“They are going to try to limit street closures [during the exercise],” she said.

maldax@sfexaminer.com

Simulation participation

What: Two simulated terrorist attacks

When: Aug. 16, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Agencies: San Francisco police, fire and sheriff’s departments; FBI; California National Guard; S.F. Department of Emergency Management; Environmental Protection Agency; Department of Parking and Traffic; S.F. Municipal Transportation Agency; S.F. Medical Examiner; Alameda County Fire; Santa Clara County Fire; Vornado Properties; McKesson Properties; 555 California St. Security; Universal Protection Services

Volunteer victims: Local students

Street closures (From 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Aug. 16):

  • Montgomery Street between Sacramento and Market streets
  • Pine Street between Battery and Kearny streets
  • Post Street between Kearny and Montgomery streets
  • Leidesdorff Street between Pine and California streets

Intersections: Sansome, Leidesdorff and Montgomery at Pine; Post, Bush and Sutter at Montgomery

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