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For a disaster, terrorism drill at Parris Island goes very well, officials say

Lance Cpl. Michael Wensjoe, a Marine claiming injuries after a mock explosion, is helped to his feet by Tony Denton of the Parris Island Fire and Rescue division Tuesday morning at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island.
Lance Cpl. Michael Wensjoe, a Marine claiming injuries after a mock explosion, is helped to his feet by Tony Denton of the Parris Island Fire and Rescue division Tuesday morning at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island.

Drill instructors barked orders at stoned-faced recruits. Rifle fire popped in the distance as other would-be Marines took aim at the shooting range.

Just another day at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island?

Yes and no.

At about 8 a.m., a diesel fuel tank "exploded" near the depot's dining hall, sending a hail of shrapnel and hot fuel over a group of recruits and a drill instructor training in a field nearby. Military police sealed off the streets, winds pushed a thick cloud of toxic smoke toward nearby buildings, and a fleet of firetrucks and ambulances soon arrived to extinguish the blaze and tend to the injured.

At least, that's what the depot's anti-terrorism analyst simulated in a drill Wednesday.

"We basically just said 'boom' at 8," said Ron Marcell, who was a bit underwhelmed by the detonation. "We were all set to do the explosion. The (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) guys were all excited to get to blow something up, but I guess the command just didn't think it was very safe."

The fictional explosion and the related chaos was hatched by Marcell and the base's security analysts as part of Parris Island's annual anti-terrorism exercise. Each year, Marcell and his staff come up with a different disaster scenario to test the depot's emergency readiness. Last year, a pair of terrorists in a Chrysler minivan mowed down a group of civilians near the depot's parade deck on family day.

"Victims" of Thursday's explosion, played by 10 Marines in plain clothes, were sprawled across the field as they waited for firefighters and paramedics to arrive. The Marines wore placards around their necks detailing their fictional injuries, which ranged from third-degree burns to one Marine assigned to death who lay motionless in the grass.

Jack Dean, Parris Island Fire Rescue assistant chief, said Thursday's exercise tested his department's training and capabilities.

"This kind of thing really tests our ability to respond to everything -- fire, medical emergencies or hazardous materials," Dean said. "It really gives us an opportunity to test our skills."

Once the "patients" were transported to local hospitals, Marcell declared the half-hour exercise over and a success.

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