Alamo Alert plans how to thwart work of bioterrorist

by Dewey Mitchell
Wilford Hall Public Affairs

02/06/01 - LACKLAND AIR FORCE BASE, Texas (AFPN) - A three-day exercise called Alamo Alert was held here Jan. 31 to Feb. 2, and focused on bioterrorism and what communities could do to thwart potential attacks.

Officials worked toward finding answers and paving the way for interaction between local, state and federal agencies as a model for other cities to follow.

"It's about our capability - it's important to know what the threat is and what our capability is," said Maj. Gen. Daniel James III, Texas National Guard adjutant general. "If we're going to be successful, we had to start talking about it, planning it, exercising it. That's the only way we're going to get better at it."

The exercise was sponsored by the Texas National Guard, Region 8 of the Texas Department of Health, and the city of San Antonio. It was conducted by the Development Center for Operational Medicine at Brooks Air Force Base, Texas. Activities were held here and at nearby Kelly AFB.

"The level of support and participation was off the scale, terrific," said Col. (Dr.) Rasa Silenas, Brooks DCOM director. "What Air Force people need to understand is that force protection doesn't stop at the gate, it goes with you to the store, baseball game and everywhere you go. With Alamo Alert, we've delivered a baby. Now we've got to bring it up."

Alamo Alert explored city, county, state and federal responses to a contagious biological agent. Among the local medical response forces were two military hospitals that participate in the local trauma network: Wilford Hall Medical Center and Brooke Army Medical Center.

A Biological Threat Symposium was held on the first day of the exercise, Jan. 31, which gave an overview of biological agents. Experts discussed the medical, social, engineering and logistical issues following a biological event. Lt. Col. (Dr.) Matt Dolan, who heads Wilford Hall Medical Center's infectious disease unit, conducted the education seminar.

Local civilian and military leaders spent most of Feb. 1 conducting "what-if" drills, considering who would take what actions, and at what level.

Called a Leadership Table-Top Exercise, the goal of this exercise was to help merge the plans of all the different agencies, so they can work more easily together in the event of a real terrorist attack.

The contractor who ran the "table-top" exercise gave details of a specific attack and provided an open forum for the participants to explore plans and response procedures as they decided on courses of action to overcome the biological terrorist event.

Participants included city leaders, and representatives from the local fire department, police department, emergency services, emergency operations center, and state and local health department. People representing the FBI, legal, public affairs, Bexar County, Federal Emergency Management Agency, area bases, medical examiner, Red Cross, and hospital council, were also present.

Local, state and federal leaders met for almost two years planning the exercise. Officials consider San Antonio an excellent location for a bioterrorist exercise because of the presence of two military hospitals.

When asked what's next following the successful exercise just completed, Silenas said, "We would like to do a follow-on exercise. As Gen. (Paul) Carlton (Air Force surgeon general) stated during the exercise, we need to have another one of these to break the complex issues into chewable bites."