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Profile: Operation ICE

Operation ICE was a participant or observer in the following events:

New York City’s Office of Emergency Management (OEM) conducts a training exercise called Operation ICE, which is designed to prepare emergency response workers for the possibility of a terrorist attack and includes a simulated chemical attack near the World Trade Center. (City of New York 11/9/1997; Roane 11/9/1997; 9/11 Commission 5/19/2004) Operation ICE is the largest terrorism response exercise ever conducted by the city. Its aim, according to Mayor Rudy Giuliani, is “to see what would happen if in fact there was a chemical attack and to see how police, fire, EMS [emergency medical services], hospitals, the FBI… would all respond.” (Fan and Gershman 11/10/1997; Kennedy 11/10/1997)
Volunteers Go to Hospitals with the Symptoms of Chemical Exposure - Operation ICE incorporates a series of field and tabletop exercises. It consists of three interconnected training events, called MEDEX, FIELDEX, and INFRAEX. MEDEX, apparently the first event to take place, is held on November 8. Forty-one city hospitals are involved in it. The aim is for the emergency workers who participate to learn how to deal with and treat “walk-in, self-referred” patients who arrive at emergency rooms minutes or hours after they have been exposed to a chemical agent. Volunteers, playing the victims, visit the hospitals, complaining about various symptoms. Hospital personnel have to determine the type of chemical exposure that matches the symptoms and decide how to treat the victims. (Roane 11/9/1997; Dittmara 3/1998)
Field Exercise Is Held near the WTC - FIELDEX, which is the centerpiece of Operation ICE, takes place a day later, on November 9. This is an elaborate field training exercise involving a simulated chemical attack at a large public gathering. It is directed by Jerome Hauer, head of the OEM, and more than 600 emergency response workers take part. They belong to agencies including the New York Police Department, the New York Fire Department, the FBI, the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, and the Departments of Defense, Environmental Protection, Health, and Transportation. (City of New York 11/9/1997; Kennedy 11/10/1997) The exercise is held less than a mile away from the WTC, on Greenwich Street, between Hubert and North Moore Streets. (Fan and Gershman 11/10/1997) It takes place “eerily in the shadow of the Twin Towers,” Giuliani will later comment. (Giuliani 2002, pp. 63)
Islamic Terrorists Release a Lethal Gas in the Simulation - The scenario for the exercise involves a rally held by a controversial political group. This is “a greed-is-good kind of group,” Giuliani will say. A speaker at the rally explains the group’s philosophy, which gets his listeners angry, and two or three of them consequently attack the group. They release VX, a deadly nerve gas, killing 21 people and injuring at least 27. The mock attackers are Islamic terrorists, according to Giuliani. Red Cross volunteers and police cadets pretend to be victims of the attack, while several mannequins represent people who have been killed. FIELDEX lasts for four hours. (Fan and Gershman 11/10/1997; Kennedy 11/10/1997; 9/11 Commission 5/19/2004)
Real Bomb Goes Off before the Exercise Starts - Participating emergency response workers are unaware of the details of the scenario before the exercise begins. “[W]e know to be prepared, that it is going to happen, but haven’t been given any particulars,” one law enforcement official comments. (Roane 11/9/1997) Local residents reportedly approve of the exercise, despite the disruption it causes. One woman remarks that she feels it “needs to be done” because, she says, “Living downtown, we are a direct target for this kind of threat, with the World Trade Center and everything.” (Fan and Gershman 11/10/1997) Ironically, two hours before the exercise commences, a real but crude bomb explodes in front of an office building a few blocks away from where the exercise is held. No advance warning is given but, fortunately, no one is injured. No one will take responsibility for the bombing. (Kennedy 11/10/1997)
Exercise Is Mostly Funded by the Defense Department - The INFRAEX segment of Operation ICE consists of a workshop that considers how the simulated attack would affect the city’s infrastructure, and how any adverse effects could be minimized and corrected. The date when this part of the exercise is held is unstated. (Dittmara 3/1998) Operation ICE is the culmination of a yearlong disaster preparedness project. (City of New York 11/9/1997) Most of the funding for it has come from a grant from the Department of Defense. (Fan and Gershman 11/10/1997; Kennedy 11/10/1997) The exercise is intended to be a model for cities throughout the US. (Dittmara 3/1998)


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