Dozens of local, state and federal agencies worked together in a simulated two-day emergency terrorist attack exercise that began on Wednesday.
It was touted as the largest terrorist attack preparation drill held in the region. With so many recent attacks abroad, emergency crews in San Diego would like to be fully prepared for every worst-case scenario.
The exercises were carried out in Carlsbad, the Port of San Diego and the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department Training Facility. First responders decontaminated mock victims of an IED/dirty bomb and practiced a mock active shooter scenario.
"There are, you know, trainings that happen all the time with fire and with law," said Holly Crawford, director of the Emergency Services for the County of San Diego. "What's different about this is the size and the scope and also the fact that it's interdisciplinary."
In the scenario of having a dirty bomb set off, mock victims washed off the toxins in decontamination units.
"It's the panic and fear of having radioactive particles spread all over a large area and a lot of people," said Chris Webber, the deputy chief for the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department.
Daisy Cruz was one of the volunteers who went through the simulation process.
"We just try to hose off all the radiation that was there," said Cruz. "Come through, make sure everything is off and you change into some clothes."
In another building, units responded to an active shooter scenario.
Speakers gave talks reminding residents to prepare for terrorist emergencies by visiting ReadySanDiego.org, and also to report suspicious activity to authorities.
The website has videos that lay out eight common signs of lone wolf terrorist attacks. That includes taking random pictures of infrastructure at odd times, trespassing and leaving bags unattended to see how long it takes security to respond.
Despite drills and exercises, there's no way to fully prepare for a terrorist attack. But SDFD officials say the county is in pretty good shape.
"From an emergency response standpoint and a recovery standpoint, we've got everything in place," said Webber.
The second part of the emergency drill will take place on Thursday, focusing on how to manage the aftermath of a terrorist attack.
One of the participating agencies in the two-day emergency exercise is the San Diego County Sheriff's Department.
Sheriff William D. Gore told NBC 7 why it's so important to have drills like this in order to prevent terrorist attacks like the ones in Europe from happening in San Diego.
"I think when you see this worldwide coverage, it makes the exercise we’re doing tomorrow even more important--relevant," said Gore.
Gore said that the exercise simulates a terrorism emergency, with about 40 different agencies working together. The simulation is a multi-prong terrorist attack at three different locations in San Diego on the first day.
“We’re light years ahead of where we were 15 years ago on 9/11,” said Gore. “We have enlisted all the 900,000 local law enforcement in our counterterrorism efforts which we really hadn’t done back in 9/11. We’re in good shape.”
On the second day, the first responders will work to coordinate the 11 emergency operation centers to see how they all perform. Crews will make sure the communication is strong and the chain of command is working, said Gore.
But how can we prevent terrorist attacks when the methods of attack appear increasingly random and erratic?
"The random ones we’ve seen, the attacks with knives or hammers like we saw today, driving a truck into traffic...Your imagination is kind of the limit for how you prepare for these types of activities,” said Gore. “I think our real challenge is identifying these people that are in our communities.”
Gore added they utilize joint terrorism task forces, to bring together federal, state and local resources. That way local law enforcement can take a spare piece of intelligence or information from San Diego, and compare it with a piece of intelligence from overseas.
We didn't have that kind of widespread teamwork and various mechanisms in place back when 9/11 happened, said Gore. So, there's a much bigger network of communication working to break up terrorist plots.
“That doesn’t mean there’s not risk. There’s risk anytime—we live in an open free society and there’s challenges and risks that come with that,” said Gore. “I try to tell people when I talk to them, we can’t protect ourselves into a police state. We have to accept a certain amount of risk.”
Gore reminded the community to work with law enforcement so they're better prepared to keep everyone safe. If you see something, say something.
“We have to be prepared, share information, be cautious. But not change our lifestyle,” said Gore. “And to the extent we do, to try, you know, out of fear of these terrorist attacks, the terrorists win. We can’t let that happen.”
To keep matters in perspective, Gore said San Diegans should be aware that they are probably more at risk of danger when they are driving on the freeway.
“Trust me, you’re in much greater danger when you drive on the I-5 or the I-15 than you are of being killed in a terrorist attack," said Gore. “That doesn’t mean we don’t take that seriously or don’t share information, but we have to go about our lives too.”