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Bergen hosts unprecedented disaster drill as Super Bowl nears

Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot File Photo

YOU READ IT HERE FIRST: With the 2014 Super Bowl at Met-Life Stadium now less than eight months away, Bergen County Police Chief Brian A. Higgins said tonight that a 5-day “mass casualty training exercise” that began earlier this afternoon in Mahwah is believed to be the first of its complexity and size in the U.S.

The exercise, being held at the Bergen County Law and Public Safety Institute in Mahwah, centers on a frightening scenario:

A recreational vehicle carrying a half-ton of ammonium nitrate/fuel oil explosive and CS- 137 powder has gotten through stadium security is detonated outside just before kickoff of a sold-out regular season football game.

The potential “victims” in the scenario could number in the tens of thousands, and the danger could spread through contamination.

The training exercise is designed “to evaluate the local and regional capabilities in place to address a mass fatality event based on a specific scenario,” Higgins said. “The outcome of the training will help determine the local and regional assets and capabilities, strengths and shortfalls.”

It is organized by what is known as the Regional Catastrophic Planning Group (RCPG), funded by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and serving New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Connecticut — basically, a population of 22 million people and an area that is home to nearly one of every 14 Americans.

A special team will direct the work, with an eye toward improving regional “security and resilience.”

Coordinating the operation is the RCPG’s lead agency, the New York City Office of the Chief Medical Examiner. It’s being hosted by the Bergen County Medical Examiner’s Office, in cooperation with the BCPD, the county Office of Emergency Management and the state Division of Criminal Justice and Medical Examiner.

Several other agencies are participating, as well, including:

Bergen County Health Department’s HAZMAT unit;
Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office;
NJ county and regional Medical Examiner’s offices;
NJ State Police Missing Persons Unit;
Bergen County Disaster Chaplaincy Services (BCDCS);
FBI Victim Assistance unit;
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC);
Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA);
National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB);
American Red Cross-Regional Office

The site “is being erected as if this was an actual event with mass fatalities,” Higgins said. “We believe that this is the first exercise of this complexity and size that goes to this level of training for a mass fatality event in the area.”

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