WASHINGTON – Baltimore is preparing for a terrorist attack.
Emergency officials will soon stockpile nerve gas antidotes, hold decontamination drills and train a medical strike team to respond to a chemical, biological or nuclear terrorist attack.
“It is not a matter of whether it is going to happen, it is a matter of when it is going to happen,” said Richard McKoy, director of the city’s Office of Emergency Management.
Baltimore was awarded a $350,000 contract from the U.S. Public Health Service this month to develop a terrorism response team. Officials from Harford, Anne Arundel, Howard, Carroll and Baltimore counties will help develop the plan.
McKoy said federal buildings, Oriole Park at Camden Yards and the soon-to-be-finished football stadium for the Baltimore Ravens make the city vulnerable to an attack.
“In urban areas problems need to be addressed before they become a reality. That is what preparedness is all about,” McKoy said.
Congress funded the creation of local anti-terrorist teams last year in response to bombings at the Oklahoma City federal building and New York’s World Trade Center and the poison-gas attack on a Tokyo subway.
City officials said the money will go toward purchasing antidotes and antibiotics against biological and chemical agents and training programs and equipment for emergency response personnel.
“We do not currently have a cache (of antidotes) anywhere in the state specifically designated for a terrorist event,” said Dr. Richard Alcorta, the state’s Emergency Medical Services medical director.
Alcorta said the team will include experts from the medical, law enforcement, fire, hazardous material and emergency medical services sectors.
In the next two years the city will hold full-scale decontamination drills and other exercises to test the system.
In the event of a mass contamination, Alcorta said hospitals will lock their doors and conduct screenings in special facilities so that victims will not spread the poison to others. After the 1995 sarin nerve gas attack in Tokyo, hospital staff became contaminated by victims they were treating.
Baltimore is one of 25 large cities that will receive a total of $9.2 million this month to develop the teams. Other cities include New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston and Philadelphia.
Prototype terrorism response teams were created last year in Atlanta in preparation for the 1996 Olympic Games and in the Washington metro region.
The Washington team has $500,000 worth of equipment that includes a decontamination trailer, chemical detection devices and protection suits and nerve gas antidotes, said Arlington Fire Capt. Mike Moultrie.
“These are high consequence, low potential events. When they happen, they affect large numbers of people,” Moultrie said.