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A Dark Matter Simulation: Drill Puts SLAC Emergency Response to the Test

Local police approach the first "victim" in the drill. (Photo by Dellilah Sabba.)

Although everyone at SLAC hopes to avoid emergency situations, internal and external responders must be prepared for any potential event, from accident to fire or worse. Thursday's disaster exercise, dubbed "Dark Matter 2009," tested a broad complement of SLAC and local emergency response personnel and systems through a somber scenario of workplace violence.

"The exercise is designed to stress the system," said Brian Sherin, SLAC deputy director of Environment, Safety and Health and drill co-organizer. This test was designed to challenge the coordination between many branches of SLAC's emergency response resources.

Using participants from both within SLAC and external organizations, SLAC hosted a simulation that included approximately 140 participants and 18 "victims." At 9:50 a.m. the scenario began, with radio calls that a vehicle had failed to stop at the Alpine Gate, and was heading into the main part of the site. At 9:52 a.m., a SLAC security officer radioed that he had been shot in the Research Yard outside of End Station A.

SLAC ERT members Scott Wenholz and Samantha Albert check one of the mock victims. (Photo by Paul Bloom.)

These radio calls activated SLAC's Emergency Response Organization. The lab Emergency Response Team was notified via text message and e-mail: "This is a drill. ERT Report to South Research Yard B211." SLAC Security "notified" 911 to call in local law enforcement personnel, who responded to the exercise from their beats in nearby neighborhoods. Emergency team members from multiple SLAC departments established the Emergency Operations Center in the conference room of the Main Control Center.

As the scenario progressed, the mock perpetrator took hostages and locked himself inside End Station A. Simulated injuriesócomplete with make-up wounds and fake bloodówere reported as the emergency team worked to stem escalating threats. As the staged emergency grew more serious, additional personnel joined the ambitious exercise, which included staff from the San Mateo County Sheriffs Office (including SWAT, Crisis Negotiation Unit, Incident Dispatch Team and the Advanced Tactics Team), Menlo Park Police Department, Palo Alto Fire Department and Police Department, Stanford University Public Safety and the FBI.

The Emergency Operations Center acted as a hub for incoming reports from the emergency personnel on the scene. Members of the EOC reported to the Communications Office and the Recovery Management Team throughout the event to create staff notifications and media statements as incident details were confirmed. The Communications Office posted updates to a mock emergency Web page and phone messages on the staff emergency hotline, and, together with the Human Resources Department, responded to calls from participants posing as concerned employees, family members and reporters.

The SLAC Recovery Management Team assess the situation from Building 40's Cypress room. (Photo by Lauren Knoche.)

The hostages were rescued and the drill ended at 12:14 p.m., leaving time for a picnic lunch before all involved in the drill attended a debriefing in Kavli Auditorium. Evaluators from Lawrence Livermore and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratories, the Palo Alto Veteran's Administration Hospital, and the SLAC Site Office provided immediate feedback in the "hot wash" debrief.

When an emergency response system is tested at this level, opportunities for improvement naturally arise, Sherin noted during the post-drill meeting. Finding these fixes is what makes a drill a success. Among key lessons from Dark Matter 2009, SLAC's ERO found that the lack of cell phone coverage and outdated hardware necessitate updates to SLAC emergency communications systems and command center hardware.

The drill also provided a chance for external emergency personnel and SLAC responders to work together in a fast-paced team effort.

"This drill was wildly successful," said SLAC Emergency Management Coordinator Lance Lougee, who co-organized the event. "The fact that we combined agencies under these conditions was a huge win for SLAC and the community."

óLauren Knoche
SLAC Today, August 28, 2009