DoD Drill Tests Response to Terrorist Attack
By Staff Sgt. Alicia K. Borlik, USA
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON -- The "terrorist attack" on the Pentagon
May 30 was just exercise Cloudy Office, but the threat is
real, said Chief John Jester of the Defense Protective
The exercise simulated an armed assault on the office
of Defense Secretary William Cohen. The drill included a
barricaded hostage situation and the terrorist release of a
lethal nerve agent. Cloudy Office was held on Saturday, when
the building is nearly empty. Normally, about 25,000 people
work inside on a regular weekday when such an attack would
The exercise of Pentagon force protection measures and
the responsiveness of civilian emergency services involved
more than 500 people from federal, state and local agencies.
Jester said the Pentagon was used because, as an
international symbol of the United States military, it is a
plausible terrorist target.
Cloudy Office was not a test of Pentagon security, said
Army Lt. Col. Nancy Burt, a DoD spokesperson. The scenario
assumed a breach -- the "terrorists" started their assault
inside the building and did not have to overcome building
The exercise began with nine armed pro-Iraqi terrorists
storming Cohen's office, taking the staff hostage and
threatening to release sarin unless their demands were met.
Carrying dummy shotguns and pistols, the terrorists also had
a gallon jug of liquid simulating sarin nerve agent, a liter
bottle of diluted sarin and an explosive device.
A Pentagon surveillance camera caught the attackers and
signaled the communications center to dispatch officers to
the scene. Under the scenario, in the initial confusion,
someone knocked over the jug, releasing lethal fumes that
felled more than 200 "Pentagon workers."
Jester said the initial response was to contact the
terrorists. After negotiations led to the release of some
hostages, DoD officials questioned them and determined
officials faced a possible chemical weapon situation.
Hazardous material teams from local fire departments
arrived at the scene and set up decontamination facilities.
Military medical personnel prepared an outdoor triage area
to treat potential sarin victims.
Meanwhile, negotiations continued and ended with the
terrorists releasing the hostages and surrendering. While
some DoD officers secured the building, others continued
evacuating sarin victims.
Water sprayed from three fire trucks provided the
initial decontamination of victims. Following that, victims
were taken to the triage area for exams and treatment. Some
players were randomly declared "still contaminated" to give
emergency technicians practice in using a special
decontamination shower and different treatment procedures.
DoD officials said the exercise is part of an effort to
improve the nation's overall ability to respond to incidents
involving nuclear, biological or chemical agents.
"The chemical threat is big now," Jester said, citing
Japanese extremists' 1995 sarin attack on the Tokyo subway.
"Everybody in the emergency reaction and counterterrorism
fields has been looking at how to respond." Other events,
such as the World Trade Center and Oklahoma City bombings,
have prompted DoD to increase exercises of this type, he
said. "With what's going on in the world today, you have to
look at all types of threats."
Cloudy Office was not the first exercise of its kind in
metropolitan Washington, but was by far the largest. A
similar exercise two years ago, Operation Crucial Office,
also simulated a hostage situation in the defense
secretary's office. DoD also conducted two partial
evacuations of the Pentagon in October and November 1997.
"I think we should do it more often," paramedic and
firefighter Stephanie Cacopardo of Montgomery County, Md.,
said at the exercise scene. A medic for 17 years, Cacopardo
has been involved in several similar exercises and said
there will always be tremendous value in doing them.
"As usual, there will be an initial panic," she said,
explaining the first reactions of several emergency teams
arriving at a scene. "But it brings up mistakes and
Jester agreed. "Communication between organizations in
this type of event is sometimes difficult," he said. "That's
why you have to practice this. Start crawling, then
Agencies involved in the exercise included the FBI, the
fire and rescue departments of Arlington County, Va., the
Army Pentagon Medical Facility, the Washington Metropolitan
Strike Force, hazardous material teams, the Virginia Office
of Public Health and the Office of the Secretary of Defense.
The 200 volunteer victims came from the military services.