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Getting ready for a disaster

March 29, 2006|By Lauren Hilgers

AIRPORT DISTRICT ? Plumes of smoke rose above Bob Hope Airport on Tuesday as airport officials proved neither wind nor rain would stop their carefully planned disaster drill.

The drill kicked off with an explosion as employees of the Walt Disney Co. helped the airport by setting fire to four cars and a small airplane.

"This is supposed to be a vehicle-borne bomb," explained the Burbank Fire Department Disaster Coordinator Rich Baenen. "The plane is supposed to be a visiting plane with dignitaries on board."

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The exercise was coordinated with another being held atLos Angeles International Airport, combining the efforts of the airport's own fire and police departments with those of Burbank, Glendale and Los Angeles. The two drills, tagged "Operation Safe Passage," aim to help the airports prepare for the real thing.

"This helps make certain that intersecting agencies are working together," said Capt. Chuck Godwin of the Burbank-Glendale-Pasadena Airport Authority Fire Department. "Of course, with our close proximity with Hollywood studios, we have to have a few explosions."

The airport is required to conduct a disaster drill every three years to ensure that agencies across the Los Angeles area are able to work together, Godwin explained.

The drill was funded with a Homeland Security grant provided to the Los Angeles Urban Area Security Initiative, a group of 16 cities surrounding Los Angeles.

In preparation for the event, officials arranged for a jet to be placed on a runway well away from Burbank's main terminal. They strew dummies across the area to represent those killed in the incident, and arranged for live volunteers to play the victims.

"I have a head injury," victim Cathie Brown said after being rescued. "I fell down when I was getting off the plane."

Volunteers were prepped before the exercise began; wounds were painted on with makeup and each volunteer received a card describing the kinds of injuries they would sustain during the bombing. Then the victims were loaded on the front section of a small jet and left to wait for the rescuers to come.

"This is my first time doing this ? the whole thing has been very interesting," said Brown, a disaster volunteer with the city. "They did a couple simulations earlier to prepare us."

Within seconds of the two explosions, rapid intervention vehicles came down the runway, spraying white foam at the burning cars and plane. Ambulances, police cars and firefighters were soon to follow.

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