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Wilmington tests its
emergency response plan

Wilmington Police Department's swat team moved into Howard High School of Technology, arrested six terrorists and freed the remaining students and school staff hostages. It was all make-believe, but the simulated incident was as realistic as organizers and participants could make it.

And it was staged for a serious purpose.

"Bad things happen all the time," said Don McVaugh, of Community Research Associates, the consultant organization which organized the exercise.

It was intended to test the city's plan for responding to a terror incident or comparable emergency. The scenario was based loosely on the takeover in 2004 of a school in Belsan, Russia, by terrorists connected the the Chechnya separist movement.

In staging the event on June 20, Wilmington joined other cities around the nation testing their preparedness. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security will evaluate results and issue a report, which John Rago, the city's communications director, said will be made public except for some details which could compromise security. He said he did not know how soon it will be ready.

Except for basic defining elements and some specific peripheral incidents injected at appropriate points by controllers, the responders were on their own as the event unfolded. Evaluators kept score as they went along. Their observations will furnish the basis for the overall evaluation.

The incident began when the 'terrorists' arrived in a food-service delivery truck before the start of the school day.

Students and staff members who volunteered to portray the hostages are marched from the cafeteria where they were seized to the main office by gun-carrying terrorists.

To demonstrate their seriousness of purpose, the terrorists 'executed' two of the hostages. (The young volunteers proved throughout the exercise to be quite adept role-players.)

 
 

One of the student hostages escaped. Cautious police officers took her into custody until her identity was verified. At that point she was able to provide participants first details of what was happening in the building,

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