D.C. holds emergency drills

(U-WIRE) WASHINGTON – Three years after 9/11, the District of Columbia Health Department hosted a mass casualty exercise to provide real life training for emergency responders in the case of another terrorist attack.

On Aug. 2, President Bush addressed the current threat of terrorism in a press release saying that while “the U.S. is safer than it was on September the 11th, 2001, we’re still not safe.”

The DC mass casualty exercises took place on Sept. 25 and 26 at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital and then at Catholic University. Put together by several D.C. public agencies, the exercises tested the skills and response tactics of the DC Fire and Emergency Medical personnel in the occurrence of a 9/11 repeat or other major disaster.

Brandon Sherr, a sophomore at the George Washington University, is a member of the Community Emergency Response Team for D.C., which does similar exercises to the ones performed by the D.C. Health Department. CERT members are not trained to handle terrorist situations professionally, but they are trained in helping with mass emergency or disaster situations where victims need limited medical attention and trauma counseling.

“It makes you more comfortable living in D.C., because you know that there are people ready to respond,” Sherr said.

While Sherr did not witness the attacks in D.C. on 9/11, he is from New York City and therefore has “local experience with terrorism.”

“What 9/11 did was it really opened up the nation to say to itself, ‘we need to better prepare ourselves,'” Sherr said.

CERT members are often asked to play the victims in mock mass casualty exercises like the one performed in order to critique the response teams.

“What emergency exercises allow us to do is let the skills that we are trained in become instinct, so that when disaster does occur, our response becomes automatic,” Sherr said.

Fourth year students at New York University remember the attacks occurring when they were just freshman in college.

“I was taking a shower when the attacks occurred. I live about thirty blocks from the World Trade Center and when I first looked out my window and saw it, I just thought it was a big fire,” said NYU senior Ben Matranga.

Even with all the national and local preparations for disasters, the question still remains whether or not Americans feel safe.

“(After 9/11) I remember being constantly worried about living in New York, I almost considered leaving school,” Kops said.

GWU held a vigil to commemorate the three-year anniversary of 9/11 for those who died then and continue to die with the war in Iraq. Senior Omar Woodard, the Student Association President, addressed a group of 400 students about his experience on 9/11.

“At that point, Pennsylvania Avenue was packed with cars and people running in the street,” Woodard said. “My cell phone wouldn’t work. A friend of mine on my floor could not stop crying because her mother worked in the towers…I have pictures of a burning Pentagon in my photo album.”

This past July, American counterterrorism officials were said to have found “alarming” intelligence claims about a possible al Qaeda strike inside the United States before the presidential elections.

“The odds are that it is bound to happen again,” Matranga said.

“Frankly, I feel like I have so little understanding of what our government is doing right now and I really don’t feel safer after the war in Iraq, I feel like there is more hatred towards the U.S. now,” Kops said.

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