Rescue drill braces for chemical fallout

Teams simulate rocket attack on Ashkelon industrial zone.

The same day as more Gaza-launched Kassams fell in Israel, Emergency services simulated a scenario in which a Kassam rocket attack causes the spread of poisonous chemicals at Ashkelon's southern industrial park. The park is six kilometers from the northern Gaza Strip, within Kassam range, police said. Magen David Adom spokesman Shaie Alazmi said a variety of dangerous chemicals are used by the factories in the park, but that he didn't want to be more specific, for reasons of security. "Lets put it like this. There are a lot of dangerous materials that can cause real damage to the workers in the park," he said. Ashkelon could also be affected, depending on the direction of the wind, he said. Police simulated the impact of a Kassam by throwing a smoke grenade next to a truck filled with mock ammonia. Not much happened until emergency services personnel arrived, and in the meantime the smoke dissipated. One cameraman called for another grenade to be employed so he could get a better picture. The police obliged, and within fifteen minutes of the start of the exercise, fire and rescue crews wearing protective clothing turned up to put out the "fire" and evacuate the "victims." In typical Israeli fashion, the exercise was carried out at walking pace, albeit a fast one, as photographers and cameramen got in each others way while looking for the best angles. Soldiers lay in the field next to the industrial park, pretending to be wounded. One or two soldiers screamed out in "pain" as an officer told them to shut up, and others spoke on their cellphones. Two of the victims appeared to be so bored that they took off their helmets and knocked them against their comrade's helmet while they waited to be evacuated. Those playing the injured were taken to ambulances while the "dead," who were represented by bright-orange plastic body suits laid out on the sand dunes, were evacuated to a position some 200 meters away. Sticky labels with the word "deceased" written on them were placed on the "bodies"; 13 people were "killed" and 20 "wounded." A helicopter searched for two "terrorists" who, as part of the exercise, had used the diversion caused by the Kassam attack to enter Israel from Gaza to carry out an attack. One of them wore a mock explosives belt, and the other carried light weapons. When they were apprehended, the "explosives" were safely "neutralized." Approximately 1,200 people took part in the exercise, including 800 police officers, said Southern District police chief Cmdr. Uri Bar-Lev. In addition to MDA and fire fighters, environmental advisors and representatives of the local authority took part. Asst.-Cmdr. Effi Mor, head of the Lahish police district, commanded the exercise. He said he was satisfied with the way it was carried out. "It was very good," he said. "The fact that all the different agencies... operated under one umbrella to deal with this was very important," he said. The major problem they had was deciding what to do with an ammonia truck in the event of a real attack, he said. "If we could take it toward the sea without endangering the population, we would do it," said Mor, adding that the truck would then be lowered into the water. "From what the environmental advisors said, it wouldn't cause damage to the sea," he said. Alazmi also said the exercise had gone well, despite a few small problems. "There were technical problems, but we will find a solution for them. However, this is why we perform the exercise - in order to learn and improve," he said. Some 40 medics and 10 ambulances took part, although MDA can call on a lot more. after the deadly train crash near Kibbutz Revadim in June, 400 medics and 60 ambulances were mobilized, said Alazmi. "This [Kassam attack] is the kind of thing that MDA has already exercised for in the past and can cope with. It's not a huge event for MDA, even though it is out of the ordinary," he said.