August 2007: Penn Station Drill
On August 26, 2007, the New York City Office of Emergency Management conducted the Penn Station Full-Scale Exercise to test the City's response to an explosion in Pennsylvania Station. The exercise allowed the City to evaluate agency procedures as first responders coordinated actions, made critical decisions, and applied the City's assets to save lives and protect the public following a possible terrorist incident.
The scenario: At 12:01 a.m. a strobe light, acting the part of a fire, pulsed through the dining car of a Washington D.C. bound train in the act of boarding. Amtrak security immediately notified first response agencies to the imagined fire, explosion, and injuries. Minutes later, sirens screamed through midtown as 400 emergency responders converged on Penn Station.
The exercise: The exercise tested three distinct phases of the City's response. In phase one, firefighters wielding axes and halligans — multi-purpose tools designed to quickly force open locked doors — rushed into Penn Station to extinguish the fire. One group evacuated mock victims while another stretched a hose from one of Penn Station's emergency standpipes.
In the second phase, police investigators entered the blackened dining car and discovered mannequins playing the part of injured victims. One mannequin, seated in the corner and covered in soot, stood out from the rest. His plaid shirt was ripped in the center revealing a wired, tactical vest underneath. He was also missing his arms and head. Responders identified him as the bomber and swept the rest of the car for threats. A second possible bomb discovered moments later forced all personnel to evacuate to a safe distance.
The final phase of the exercise tested the City's fatality management and evidence collection procedures. First responders from the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (OCME) established a command post and collected samples from each victim to create a database. In a real mass fatality incident, OCME could identify victims by cross-referencing these DNA samples with samples contributed by friends and family of missing people. In spite of the stop and go nature of the exercise, players established an incident command post, implemented life safety operations, created a multi-agency safety/security zone, and conducted fatality management operations faster than controllers expected.
Penn Station's size and busy environment added various complications to the exercise. In addition to managing substantial pedestrian traffic, players had to navigate unplanned obstacles like suspicious packages — any bags left unattended. Due to the overtones of terrorism, responders reacted to the packages as if they were in play and relocated the Incident Command Post to a safe distance outside of Penn Station.
View the press release