May 8, 2008

A national disaster exercise that began last week involves the evacuation of thousands of federal personnel from Washington, D.C., the Washington Post reported (see GSN, April 29).

In National Exercise 2-08, which continues through Saturday, terrorists release a poisonous gas from a tanker in Washington state while Oregon authorities must handle the unintentional escape of nerve agent from the Umatilla Chemical Depot.

Meanwhile, the capital region is faced with a terrorist threat and a major hurricane making its way up the East Coast. Over three days this week, the federal government is using cars and helicopters to move large numbers of employees to temporary sites in Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia. The drill is intended to test the ability to maintain “continuity of government” in the face of a crisis (see GSN, April 7, 2004).

This is among the largest such drills since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, officials said.

President George W. Bush was not expected to be among the evacuees, but some White House personnel would be sent out of town, said spokesman Scott Stanzel.

“I’m not going to be able to detail who those officials are,” he said.

The D.C. exercise is largely a “tabletop” event, meaning there would be more talking than actual deployment of emergency personnel, the Post reported. Officials from the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia are participating on a limited basis.

“At least they’re doing exercises,” said New York University government professor Paul Light. “It’s not enough to design plans; you have to practice.”

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