Thousands of local police and firefighters, members of the military, state officials and federal homeland security experts will hold a terrorism drill across Virginia this week, part of a long-planned test of the nation's coordination during simultaneous terrorist attacks, Gov. Mark R. Warner (D) announced Monday.
Warner said the exercise, dubbed "Determined Promise 2004," was not prompted by Sunday's announcement of new terrorism threats against five buildings in Washington, New York and New Jersey. Planning for the terror drill began 18 months ago.
But the governor said the new warning "reinforces the importance of regular training. I am committed to doing anything possible to better prepare the commonwealth. Our job is to keep Virginia safe and secure."
Security officials declined to provide details about the drill, which also will take place in California. They said they want local officials to be surprised by the mock devastation as it unfolds so experts can better judge their responses.
But then they showed two maps suggesting the magnitude of simultaneous attacks. Labels on the maps include: "Henrico Attack," "Richmond Attack," "Port of Hampton Roads Attack," "Air Threats," "Missile Attack," "Maritime threats," and "WMD Attack."
In addition, they released broad descriptions about the attacks that would be chilling if they were real:
On Aug. 4, SWAT team members will raid a house in Hampton, where they will discover the production of chemical weapons.
On Aug. 5, the Coast Guard and the city of Portsmouth will respond to the release of sarin gas on a cruise ship at Pier 3 of the Norfolk International Terminal.
On Aug. 6, Chesterfield County emergency officials will rush to an elementary school, where explosions and sarin gas have resulted in "numerous casualties."
Other simulated attacks will occur throughout the week, but officials declined to say where or when. Warner, flanked by members of the military and state police, said he did not believe that local officials would mistake a planned exercise for a real terrorist attack.
Col. Michael Coleman, assistant chief of staff for the Virginia Army National Guard, said leading participants in the exercise always will be aware of what is real and what is not.
"They know what is supposed to happen," he said.
George W. Foresman, the governor's top aide on terrorism issues, said federal and state officials debated over the weekend whether to postpone the training exercise because of the real threats along the East Coast.
"There was a lot of discussion," he said. "But at the end of the day, a threat of an attack doesn't allow you to suspend your preparation."
Officials declined to say exactly how much the drill would cost. Coleman said several state agencies, including the Health Department, have received federal grants to conduct readiness tests.
Chesterfield also sought a federal grant to pay for its portion of the test. He said the National Guard received about $131,000 from the Department of Defense during the planning phase of the exercise.
In addition, the U.S. Army's Joint Task Force Civil Support, which is based at Fort Monroe, Va., budgeted $1.3 million for the exercise, which will involve more than 450 sailors and soldiers, according to Maj. Gen. Jerry W. Grizzle, the task force's commander.
Warner called the exercise "a great learning opportunity" for state and local officials and said he was pleased that Virginia was selected as one of the sites for the training.
But he urged residents to continue to be on the watch for suspicious activity. Warner said residents can go to www.vaemergency.com for more detailed instructions about what to look for.