No 'War of Worlds'

by NBC10/AP | Mar 30, 2005
No 'War of Worlds' State officials are invoking the panic touched off by an infamous radio broadcast as they warn residents to stay calm during a massive terrorism drill planned for next week.

"The public needs to know that an exercise is going on," acting Gov. Richard J. Codey said Tuesday. "You might hear about something strange at your local hospital, or see first responders in hazardous materials suits, or see a large number of ambulances in your area."

Starting Monday, New Jersey officials will begin responding to a simulated bio-terror attack designed to strain the limits of the state's health care capabilities. Ambulances will be whizzing to hospitals, investigators will be searching for clues in marked and unmarked cars, and volunteers acting as "victims" will pour into emergency rooms.

"Don't be alarmed," Codey said. "We don't want this to turn into 'War Of The Worlds.' It happened before, and it could happen again."

Orson Wells' 1938 "War Of The Worlds" broadcast of a fake Martian invasion in Grovers Mill, N.J., created panic among people who didn't realize it was fictitious.

Next week's "attack," which has taken two years to plan, will be centered in Middlesex and Union counties, selected for their population densities and major highways and train systems. The five-day exercise will start when a vehicle used to disperse a "biological agent" is found in New Jersey and people pretending to be seriously ill start to overwhelm hospitals, federal officials said. An attack involving fake chemical weapons is to occur concurrently in New London, Conn.

In New Jersey, all 21 counties and 82 hospitals have roles to play, as do state police, hazardous materials teams, emergency management personnel, and police, fire and emergency first-responders, such as emergency room staff.

Codey acknowledged word of the drill will not have reached everyone by the time it begins, and said officials are prepared for anxious calls from the public. He urged anyone who sees something amiss and who is unsure if there is a real problem to call the state's Domestic Security Task Force at 1-866-4SAFENJ.

"Tell them you saw something, you're not sure what it is, but you wanted to report it," Codey said.

The drill -- called TOPOFF 3 -- will be the largest, most comprehensive counter-terrorism drill ever held in the United States, said Matt Mayer, acting executive director of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Office of State and Local Government Coordination and Preparedness.

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Author: NBC10/AP

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