DOWNTOWN — A mock homemade nuclear bomb built by terrorists just went off in Times Square. About 100,000 people are killed right away, and glass flies everywhere while the intense flash of light from the explosion blinds thousands of drivers.
People run in all directions as debris mixed with nuclear radiation forms a mushroom-shaped plume of fallout.
This is the scenario dozens of city and state agencies worked with Wednesday as part of a one-day drill meant to assess communication and logistics efficiency between emergency operating centers in the tri-state area in the case of a nuclear terrorist attack in New York City.
“The overarching goal is to see how we are all talking to each other in all the different agencies because we’re all at different locations. How can we manage a terrorist attack on a regional level? How do we get people out of the city? How do we feed them, decontaminate them and shelter them, how do we get the message out when the power is down? ” said Paula Carlson, New York City Office of Emergency Management (OEM) deputy director of training.
The city's Emergency Operations Center at 165 Cadman Plaza East in Brooklyn was relatively quiet during the drill, as just a handful of staff members arrived from agencies including the NYPD, the Department of Environmental Protection, Department of Sanitation and Parks Department.
Other employees stayed at the agencies' headquarters to coordinate the emergency response. Some FEMA employees were also involved in the exercise, said Nancy Greco Silvestri, spokeswoman for OEM.
The New York City Emergency Operations Center — the central location for officials from local, state and federal agencies in case of large-scale emergencies or special events in New York — was recently used as the emergency headquarters during Hurricane Sandy and the fatal Harlem explosion, as well as national holidays such as New Year's Eve.
As the drill continued on Wednesday morning, two DEP employees were trying to assess the water contamination resulting from the nuclear blast.
On the other side of the operations center, Annette Santiago, who usually serves as the director of human resources for OEM, was in charge of human services for the day, asking the agency's logistics team to find how many shelters were available in radiation-free areas such as Staten Island and the south of Queens and Brooklyn.
“Once we have figured out which shelters are available we have to send our food and clothes supplies there,” said Santiago, who has done eight large-scale drills such as the one on Wednesday since she joined OEM about 10 years ago.
“Since it’s not real life nobody needs to panic. It’s giving us an opportunity to learn about the good and the bad and where we need to improve. It’s a good exercise for the new hires as well,” she said before heading off to give instructions to other participants.
Emergency responders from New Jersey also took part in the drill.
One of the rehearsal's main challenges was to find a way to send messages to the public, NYC Emergency Management Commissioner Joseph Esposito said, especially if power plants are down and networks are overwhelmed.
“We think the best thing would be portable radios. We would have to get a message, to get that message to speak with one voice,” said Esposito, adding that a 10 kiloton nuclear explosion in Times Square such as the one described in the drill scenario is “possible but not probable.”
The OEM has gathered a list of items, which includes a battery-operated radio and granola bars, that every household should have handy in case of an emergency, Greco Silvestri said.