Thursday, May 1, 2008 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

Federal government's 8-Day Terror Drill to Test Disaster Preparedness

By Haley Edwards

Seattle Times Staff reporter

The Department of Homeland Security today will begin an eight-day disaster-preparedness drill, testing in part how federal, state and local government agencies would respond to a large-scale terrorist attack in Seattle.

That's good for government preparedness, said Robert Harper, spokesman for the Washington Emergency Management Division.

But dozens of local activists say it's not so good. They believe the federal government has used such drills in the past to manipulate public policy, said Bob Dennis, a member of We Are Change Seattle, a local activism group.

This drill, one of the largest emergency simulations ever planned in the Northwest, will center on three fictional events in Washington and Oregon.

The first is a simulation of a terrorist attack on downtown Seattle today. The second is a release of toxic chemicals on May 5 at the Umatilla Chemical Depot in Oregon. And the third is an explosion of a chemical tanker truck on May 6 in Whatcom County.

Soldiers, officers and government agents will not be present in downtown Seattle, said Master Sgt. David Largent, spokesman for the Washington Military Department at Fort Murray.

Instead, roughly 100 "role players" and hundreds of government officers will meet at "an urban training area" at Leschi Town at Fort Lewis, where they will set up a simulated decontamination and triage center, he said.

Dennis, who is also a member of the national 9/11 Truth movement, said many people are concerned that the federal government will use these practice drills to stage an actual attack on U.S. soil. "Then they'll blame it on, say, Iran, and use it as an excuse to go to war," he said.

Linda Boyd, director of the Eastside Fellowship of Reconciliation, a peace activism group in Bellevue, said distrust of the Bush administration has given those theories legs.

A 2006 Zogby International poll found that 42 percent of Americans believe the 9/11 Commission, which was charged to investigate the events of the Sept. 11 attacks, "concealed or refused to investigate critical evidence" of what occurred that day.

Hundreds of bloggers have claimed that a terror-attack drill, like the one planned this week in Seattle, was also going on in New York City immediately before the Sept. 11 attacks, and in London immediately before the July 7 attacks.

While members of FEMA were in New York City on Sept. 10 and 11, 2001, the 9/11 Commission did not find evidence that FEMA had been involved in any way with the attacks, according to the 9/11 Commission Report. The report does not find any American officials responsible for the attacks.

Harper said the Emergency Management Division has heard from some people concerned that there is more to the drill than what's being publicized.

"We've had some calls from people asking about that stuff," he said. "But it's not accurate.

There's an exercise going on. Is it part of a foreign policy? No. Is it going to offer an opportunity for terrorists to strike? No. It's a chance to train with federal-level agencies that would help us with a catastrophic event. That's all."

The U.S. Army, the Washington National Guard, the American Aerospace Defense Command, the U.S. Northern Command, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Washington Emergency Management Division, local governments and fire, police and sheriff's departments will all participate.

Haley Edwards: 206-464-2745 or